Venezuela closes border with Brazil amid rising tension over aid
Bogota, Feb. 21, 2019 (dpa/NNN) Venezuela was on Thursday blockading itself against attempts to bring in humanitarian aid, closing its border with Brazil while the opposition continued to prepare the first aid delivery.
The country will close its border with Brazil starting at 8 pm on Thursday (0000 GMT on Friday), Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced.
The border will remain closed “until further notice,’’ Maduro said at a meeting with top army brass.
The measure follows the closure of air and sea routes to Curacao and to fellow Dutch Caribbean islands Aruba and Bonaire.
Curacao has been established as an aid collection centre, and another one is being set up in the Brazilian border state of Roraima.
Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, has joined the U.S. in pledging aid for Venezuela.
The main aid hub has been established in the Colombian border city of Cucuta, which houses about 200 tons of food, medicine and hygiene items donated mainly by the US.
Opposition leader, Juan Guaido, whom dozens of countries have recognised as Venezuela’s interim president, on Thursday departed from Caracas with fellow lawmakers in a caravan of buses towards Cucuta in order to lead the aid effort.
The opposition has set Saturday as the date for the aid delivery, though it is not clear how the supplies can be taken past troops that Maduro has posted on the border.
Guaido says 300,000 Venezuelans are at risk of death due to food and medicine shortages, while Maduro dismisses the aid operation as a “farce” disguising a U.S. military intervention.
U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, vowed on Thursday that Washington will not back down from the aid plan.
“This weekend we will attempt to deliver what are now hundreds of tons of humanitarian assistance that the American people, our taxpayers, have generously paid for, [and] now have moved into the region.
“We hope we can get it across the border,” Pompeo told NBC News.
Venezuela’s Bishops’ Conference joined opposition calls on the army to turn against Maduro and let the aid through.
Soldiers “must not obey orders that go against the life and the security of the population,” the bishops said in a statement.
More aid was meanwhile travelling towards Venezuela, according to Guaido.
A ship carrying 250 tons of supplies has left Puerto Rico, while an aircraft carrying 50 tons is flying from Miami towards Curacao, he tweeted.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Jorge Arreaza, said the government had contacted the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and “other Caribbean island countries” to warn them about the use of their territories “for the planning and organisation of actions of an illegal and terrorist nature.”
Such actions form part of a strategy “to provoke an ouster of the legitimate government,” according to the government statement, published by Arreaza on his Twitter account.
Venezuela’s ally Cuba has claimed that the U.S. is secretly moving troops towards Venezuela through Caribbean countries including the Dominican Republic, which has denied such allegations.
U.S. President Donald Trump has not ruled out a military intervention in Venezuela.
U.S. allies in Latin America were meanwhile stepping up pressure on Maduro.
The presidents of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay are expected to attend a benefit concert that British billionaire Richard Branson is staging to collect funds for Venezuela in Cucuta on Friday, according to Colombian media.
Maduro’s government has announced a simultaneous concert to denounce U.S. “imperial aggression.” Both sides have also called demonstrations for Saturday.
Guaido had told Mexican broadcaster Televisa on Wednesday that the Venezuelan opposition was trying to freeze Swiss bank accounts held by Venezuelan officials after “irregular movements” were discovered.
He had discussed the matter with Swiss President and Finance Minister Ueli Maurer on the phone, Guaido said.
“There were no such contacts,” a Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman told dpa.
Unlike the U.S., Germany and other countries, neutral Switzerland has not explicitly recognised Guaido as interim leader. (dpa/NNN)
Edited by Fatima Sule/Wale Ojetimi