Tensions rise as Venezuela blocks border bridge in standoff over aid

Daniel Fowler
February 9, 2019

Venezuela's dire situation has fuelled a political crisis that has peaked over the last month with Guaido invoking a constitutional provision to declare himself the legitimate, interim president.

Elliott Abrams, U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, said at a press briefing of the State Department that Washington has revoked visas for an unspecified number of Venezuelan officials as the U.S.is seeking to press the country's president, Nicolas Maduro, to cede powers and leave the nation.

A day after the USA aid convoy arrived in the border city of Cucuta, Maduro ridiculed the Americans for offering small amounts of assistance while maintaining sanctions that block some $10 billion of offshore assets and revenue.

Venezuela's collapse under USA sanctions and the rule of socialist President Nicolas Maduro, with the country plunged into poverty and driving some 3 million people to flee overseas, has led to further United States intervention in backing opposition leader Juan Guaido after he declared himself president last month.

"If they dare to keep blocking the routes, and creating obstacles to the lives of Venezuelans, we'll go to open them, with the people, the security forces", Guaido said.

The 35-year-old National Assembly chief - who stunned Venezuelans when he proclaimed himself president on January 23 - is trying to force Maduro from power, set up a transitional government and hold a new presidential polls.

Maduro's government has accused Guaido, who has galvanized Venezuela's opposition, of attempting to stage a US -directed coup.

He has claimed legitimacy from the constitution as National Assembly leader, on the grounds that Maduro's re-election last May, boycotted by most of the opposition, was "illegitimate".

Guaido said Thursday he was confident his efforts to bring humanitarian aid into the country would work out. Maduro's security forces used freight containers and a tanker trailer to block the global bridge near where the aid is arriving. "Maduro has to accept".

Another US official and a person familiar with the deliberations told Reuters that Washington was also considering sanctions on Cuban military and intelligence officials who are allegedly helping Maduro to remain in power.

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Maduro still has the support of the military high command, and now routinely appears in pre-recorded events at military bases where officers stand behind him and chant triumphal slogans such as "Loyal always, traitors never".

Scott noted Cuba had sent military troops to Venezuela to defend Maduro.

Maduro also repudiated a statement issued by the International Contact Group on Venezuela.

Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez is leading the meeting attended by leaders of 14 countries, including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Sweden.

It is still unclear how the aid will get through the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

Offers of humanitarian assistance are coming in from around the world.

Opening a session in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a contribution of 53 million Canadian dollars ($40.4 million) in aid to Venezuela.

Dozens of volunteers prepared sacks of rice, canned tuna and protein-rich biscuits for malnourished children at a warehouse on the Colombian border on Friday as Venezuela's opposition vowed to deliver the US humanitarian aid to their troubled nation, even if it means mounting a mass mobilization of their countrymen to carry it in.

He said: "Everyone knows that there will be no clashes between civilians in Venezuela".

He outlined the move as part of a plan to push the military into cooperating with the opposition.

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