Venezuelan women seek to sway soldiers blocking aid

AFP, CUCUTA, Colombia

Sun, Feb 10, 2019 - Page 4

The soldiers blocking humanitarian aid from entering Venezuela look unlikely to give any ground, but Maria Acevedo thinks she knows how to make them let the shipments through.

Acevedo, 26, wants to join together with other Venezuelan women and escort the food and medicine across the border from Colombia.

Her bet is that a group of hungry and suffering mothers, sisters and daughters could convince the soldiers to break with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and let the US aid shipments pass.

Maduro, who is locked in a power struggle with Venezuelan National Assembly President and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido, refuses to let aid through.

He calls it a “show” and says Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis has been manufactured by Washington to justify a “coup.”

What happens to the sea of shiny white plastic bags filled with vital supplies — and to Venezuela itself — now hinges on the military, which has so far stood by Maduro.

However, Acevedo, who has three children, thinks she and other Venezuelan women can change that.

She should know — she comes from a family of soldiers.

“I come from a military family, too. And my family is against this, against the army blocking humanitarian aid,” Acevedo told reporters in Cucuta, on the Colombian side of the border.

“But my family can’t do anything,” she added. “Only the top brass.”

She regularly travels to Colombia to buy the food that she can no longer find in Venezuela, a once booming oil giant that has skidded into a devastating economic crisis under Maduro.

“We women are the ones who have to help get this humanitarian aid through. Not the men,” she added. “They might be strong, but they can’t do much because the authorities would immediately attack them.”

There is history behind Acevedo’s hope.

In 2016, Maduro also closed the border at Cucuta, accusing Colombia of plotting to destabilize his socialist government.

In July that year, hundreds of women dressed in white broke through the military cordon and crossed to Colombia, the only place where they could buy enough food for their families.

Women protesting in white, a tradition dating to at least the suffrage movement in the US a century ago, has re-emerged as a trend.

It was seen on Tuesday at US President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, at which several dozen Democrat lawmakers used their wardrobes to make a visually striking statement against Trump.

Guaido, who is recognized by about 40 countries, might try the same strategy used in Cucuta in 2016.

The team he has appointed to distribute the aid says it is not ruling it out.

“The Venezuelan people are going to unite in a humanitarian corridor, civilians walking hand-in-hand with soldiers,” team head Lester Toledo said.

Venezuelan protesters on the Colombian side of the border bridge — expatriates who are among the 2.3 million people to leave the country since 2015 — are sending the same message.

One of them brandished a sign that read: “Soldier, friend, we’re counting on you.”

“We didn’t want to leave our country, which we love, but the situation forced us to. Our children are hungry. We have no money,” said demonstrator Eduard Guzman, clutching a sign asking soldiers to let the aid through “now, now, now.”

He walked across the border and was on his way to the Colombian capital, Bogota, when he saw the protest and decided to join it.

“We are suffering,” Guzman said. “We can’t go on like this.”