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Colombia launches Venezuela aid deliveries amid violence

CUCUTA/URENA, Venezuela: The Venezuelan opposition and Colombia on Saturday launched an operation to take humanitarian aid to Venezuela while clashes between soldiers and pro-aid demonstrators raged on the Venezuelan side of the border. Demonstrators set up barricades and burned tyres in the Venezuelan border town of Urena, as attention turned to whether National Guard troops stationed at the border crossing would fulfil Maduro’s orders to block humanitarian aid from reaching a sick and hungry population.

Four National Guard troops at the frontier disavowed Maduro’s socialist government on Saturday, following an appeal from Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to let aid through. A social media video showed the troops driving armoured vehicles across a bridge linking the two countries, knocking over metal barricades in the process, and then jumping out of the vehicles and running to the Colombian side.

“Among the troops, whether they are in the army, air force, navy or National Guard, many people disagree (with what is happening),” one of the troops, an officer whose uniform carried the name Linarez, told reporters after entering Colombia, according to another video on social media. “You can’t say anything against the government. It’s treason.”

Colombia’s migration authority confirmed the defection of the four Venezuelan soldiers.

Leaders of Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party call the aid effort a veiled invasion backed by Washington, and insist that the United States should instead help Venezuela by lifting crippling financial and oil sector sanctions.

Venezuela’s opposition says that while the need for basic food and medicines is desperate, the aid operation is also meant to embarrass military officers who continue to support Maduro’s increasingly isolated government.

Demonstrators in Urena who blocked roads and burned tires also threw rocks at security forces who responded with volleys of tear gas.

The troops had earlier blocked people from crossing the border into Cucuta, where many Venezuelans now work, shop or send their children to school amid Venezuela’s continued economic collapse.

“We were all going to work. We want to work: the people attempted to force their way through,” said Viviana Meza, 29, who works in a Cucuta restaurant.

Guaido, recognised by most Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, defied court orders not to leave the country when he travelled on Friday to Cucuta, where aid from the US and Colombian governments is stockpiled in warehouses.

Guaido was due to hold a news conference with the presidents of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay in Cucuta on Saturday morning before escorting the aid toward the border on foot. A line of heavy trucks packed with aid supplies waited to attempt the crossing, in front of rows of television cameras.

US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton cancelled plans to travel to South Korea to prepare for a summit addressing North Korea’s nuclear program in order to focus instead on events unfolding in Venezuela, his spokesman said on Friday.— Reuters

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