Fri, Feb 22, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Guaido to leave for Colombia as standoff hardens

CONVOY:As the opposition leader scrambled buses to transport international aid from the border, the military announced the closure of air and sea links with Curacao

AFP, CARACAS

Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido made plans to head for the border with Colombia to personally bring in US-supplied food and medicine in defiance of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s military-backed government, raising fears of possible confrontations during the weekend.

Guaido, who has set a deadline tomorrow for bringing in the aid, planned to depart at 6am yesterday in a caravan of buses with members of the opposition-controlled legislature, forcing a high-stakes showdown with Maduro.

On Maduro’s orders, the military has beefed up border security and barricaded a major border bridge to prevent the supplies from entering the country from Cucuta, Colombia, where tonnes of supplies are stockpiled.

Although it was unclear exactly what Guaido intends to do, he said that he had enlisted hundreds of thousands of volunteers to help bring in and distribute the aid.

On Wednesday, he rallied bus drivers to go to the borders to collect aid for Venezuelans suffering shortages.

“Even though they point guns at us — and all of us have received threats, rubber bullets and even live ones — we are not afraid,” Guaido said, standing on the back of a truck in a throng of supporters. “We will stay out in the street with our chests bared, demanding freedom for all of Venezuela.”

Guaido, 35, proclaimed himself acting president on Jan. 23 and has since won the backing of more than 50 countries.

He wants to oust Maduro, set up a transitional government and hold new elections.

“This could be very soon, between six and nine months, once Maduro’s current usurpation ends,” Guaido told Mexican TV station Televisa.

Guaido has said that 300,000 people could die without an influx of aid and he aims to rally 1 million volunteers to start bringing it in by tomorrow.

Addressing supporters, he listed the planned transit points of entry at the Brazilian and Colombian borders, the Dutch Caribbean country of Curacao and the seaports of Puerto Cabello and La Guaira.

However the Venezuelan military has already blocked the Tienditas Bridge across the Colombian border and Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez confirmed that the government was shutting down air and sea links between Curacao and Venezuela.

The military said in a decree that it was banning vessels from sailing out of Venezuela’s ports until Sunday to avoid actions by “criminal” groups.

Underlining the swell of international support for Guaido, British entrepreneur Richard Branson plans to hold a pro-aid concert just inside Colombia today, while Maduro’s government is to stage a rival concert on its side of the border, about 300m away.

Private bus driver Jose Figueroa, 60, said that he planned to leave Caracas in the coming days in a convoy of about 30 vehicles.

“The government is leading us to war. It will be very difficult. The situation is extremely tense,” he said, as drivers parked their buses and pickup trucks at a rally in central Caracas. “But a bullet will kill you more quickly than hunger.”

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