published 2019-02-22 10:23:34 by Lucia Suarez Sang
Trucks driven by supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido nearly rammed into a blockade by security forces still loyal to embattled President Nicolas Maduro in an attempt to reach aid in Colombia.
Images show a red truck trying to forcefully pass through a checkpoint in Mariara, in northern Venezuela a few hours outside of Caracas, on Thursday as the security forces appeared to stand their ground.
The national guardsmen in anti-riot gear positioned a trailer truck in front of a tunnel, blocking the highway westward. A shouting match and scuffle ensured, with the guardsmen firing tear cag before the lawmakers eventually forced their way through and resumed their journey.
The truck is part of a cross-country caravan led by Guiado for the border with Colombia, where much of the U.S.-supplied aid is warehoused. Guaido has called for thousands of ordinary Venezuelans to assemble at the Colombian border on Saturday to help bring the aid across.
The clash came as Maduro announced Thursday plans to close the vast, jungle border with Brazil a day after he blocked air and sea travel between Venezuela and the nearby Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, where the first cargo of relief supplies arrived earlier that day.
Maduro said he was also weighing whether to shut the border with Colombia, where the bulk of aid is being stockpiled and exiled leaders have been gathering ahead of a fundraising concert Friday organized by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, in which several major Latin American pop artists will perform.
“We’re not beggars,” he said. “What the U.S. empire is doing with its puppets is an internal provocation. They wanted to generate a great national commotion, but they didn’t achieve it.”
Saturday’s aid showdown comes exactly a month after Guaido declared himself interim president in a mass rally, immediately drawing the support of the U.S. and 50 other countries.
But while he’s managed to bring hope to Venezuelans crushed by years of recession, food shortages and hyperinflation, he’s so far been unable to win over the military, which has shown little sign of abandoning Maduro.
In a move that might change the tide to win over the military, Hugo Chavez’s longtime spy chief, retired Maj. Gen. Hugo Carvajal, declared his loyalty to Guaido.
Reading prepared remarks in a video on social media, Carvajal, who spent a decade running Chavez’s military intelligence agency before stepping down in 2012, urged his former comrades to redeem themselves and abandon their support for Maduro.
“You carry on your shoulders the weight of an army that gave liberty to people in more than five countries,” he said, referring to the Venezuelan-born Simon Bolivar’s role as the father of South American independence from Spain.
“We can’t allow an army, in the hands of a few generals subjugated to Cuban instructions, to become the biggest collaborator of a dictatorial government that has plagued people with misery,” he added.
For now, the military continues to obey Maduro’s orders even as Guaido tries to bring international attention to the country’s hardships.
Branson’s “Venezuela Aid Live” event will face a rival concert being put on by the government at the other end of the Tienditas Bridge, which connects Venezuela with neighboring Colombia.
Venezuelan officials have not said who is going to perform on the Venezuela end of the bridge. The concert’s slogan is “Hands Off Venezuela.”
“All the artists that are going to sing in Colombia must know that they are committing a crime. They are endorsing a military intervention,” said Maduro.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.