President Nicolas Maduro announced Saturday he was severing diplomatic ties with Venezuela’s neighbor Colombia after it backed his rival Juan Guaido in his attempts to bring humanitarian aid into the country.
“I have decided to break off all political and diplomatic relations with the fascist government of Colombia,” Maduro told a huge rally of his supporters in the capital Caracas.
He gave Colombia’s diplomats 24 hours to leave the country. “Get out of here, oligarchs!” he said.
Guaido rallied his supporters when he showed up at the concert on Friday joined by Colombian President Ivan Duque, Chile’s Sebastian Pinera and Mario Abdo of Paraguay. The leaders greeted the crowd before the concert ended.
Maduro’s rival concert, decidedly smaller and featuring Cuban and local artists, began hours later nearby on the Venezuelan side of the border in Urena.
Performers took to the stage against a giant backdrop emblazoned with the words “#Trump Hands off Venezuela,” with around 2,500 people in attendance.
— RT (@RT_com) February 23, 2019
Meanwhile, an opposition campaign to deliver humanitarian aid into Venezuela descended into chaos Saturday after Maduro’s security forces fired on demonstrators and aid trucks were set ablaze as his blockade held firm.
Two people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed in clashes with security forces on the Brazil-Venezuela border amid efforts to bring in aid there, a human rights group said.
Guaido had set a Saturday deadline for the delivery of food and medical aid stockpiled in Colombia and Brazil. Aid is also being held on the Caribbean island of Curacao because of Maduro’s ban. But hundreds of volunteers, many clad in white, were frustrated in their attempts to collect the aid at the Colombian border, pinned back by Maduro’s security forces.
President Guaido is personally leading the effort to bring aid to Venezuelan people. The military has a chance to protect and assist the people of Venezuela, not Maduro and a band of thieves. Choose the road of democracy. pic.twitter.com/5dV4GELiry
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 23, 2019
Since dawn, protesters in the border towns of Urena and San Antonio were held at bay by the Venezuelan National Guard firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Gunshots could be heard in the streets of Urena during hours of rioting.
Maduro’s supporters halted and set ablaze two trucks loaded with aid driven through barricades on a border bridge, sending a pall of black smoke into the sky over the Santander crossing linking Cucuta, Colombia with Urena, Venezuela.
“People are saving the bulk of what’s on the first truck, and looking after the humanitarian aid that Maduro the dictator ordered burned,” opposition lawmaker Gaby Arellano told reporters.
“Our brave volunteers are making a chain to safeguard food and medicines, the humanitarian avalanche is unstoppable,” Guaido said from Cucuta, Colombia, where he was coordinating the delivery of aid.
Some National Guard troops reportedly took advantage of the confusion to abandon their posts and cross into Colombia.
Colombia’s immigration service said at least 23 members of the security forces — 20 of them troops — had deserted by Saturday afternoon.
#Zakharova: The developments in #Venezuela have reached a critical point. A major dangerous provocation is scheduled for February 23, incited and led by #Washington: a ‘humanitarian convoy’ crossing Venezuela’s border pic.twitter.com/ggBFbNE4Sv
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) February 22, 2019
Guaido, recognized as interim leader by more than 50 countries — said they would be welcomed and not treated as traitors.
The opposition leader formally launched a long-planned distribution operation at a warehouse at the Tienditas border bridge in Cucuta joined by the presidents of Chile, Colombia and Paraguay.
“The humanitarian aid is definitely going to Venezuela in a peaceful and calm manner to save lives at this time,” said Guaido.
Shortly afterward, he claimed a first shipment had reached Venezuela to defy Maduro’s blockade. But the truck he was referring to remained stuck at the Brazilian border hours later.
Guaido has vowed humanitarian aid would enter his country despite the blockade. His supporters planned to drive the aid from Colombia into Venezuela at the closed border crossings supported by a flood of volunteers and accompanied by Catholic priests in an attempt to avoid arrest.
Maduro has rejected the aid, which he’s dismissed as a show and pretext for a U.S. invasion.
— Mark Green (@USAIDMarkGreen) February 23, 2019
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Venezuelan authorities to refrain from using lethal force against protesters.
Hoy #23Feb el pueblo se moviliza en Caracas y en todas las ciudades del país. Vamos todas y todos a las calles a defender nuestra independencia, con conciencia y alegría. No habrá guerra en la Patria de Bolívar y Chávez, aquí triunfará la paz. ¡Venezuela se Respeta! pic.twitter.com/ZKDthCCH9N
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) February 23, 2019
More on the Subject
U.S. officials have slammed Maduro for blocking American aid shipments from entering Venezuela as the country continues to face food and medicine shortages and cases of malnutrition caused by the country’s severe economic crisis, which has reportedly caused more than three million people to leave the country in recent years.
The United Nations and the Red Cross, however, have said the U.S. aid shipments are “politically motivated” and have refused to participate in efforts to bring the aid into Venezuela.
“We will not be participating in what is, for us, not humanitarian aid,” Colombia’s International Red Cross spokesperson, Christoph Harnisch, said earlier this month.