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Maduro shuts Venezuela’s border with Brazil

Lawmaker members of the Venezuelan National Assembly and supporters of the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, clash with security forces as they block the road on the outskirts of Mariara, Venezuela February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

CARACAS: President Nicolas Maduro said Venezuela would shut its border with Brazil Thursday “until further notice” amid a tense standoff with opposition leader Juan Guaido over allowing in aid. Maduro said the land border with Brazil would be “completely and absolutely” closed from 8 p.m. local time “until further notice,” following a meeting with the military high command.

The embattled socialist leader also said he was considering “a total closure of the border with Colombia” to Venezuela’s west.

He has already ordered the military to barricade a major border bridge to prevent supplies from entering the country from Cucuta, Colombia, where tons of humanitarian aid are being stockpiled, most of it from the U.S. He said he was mulling the Colombia border closure following provocations from Colombian President Ivan Duque and U.S. President Donald Trump.

“I hold Mr. Ivan Duque personally responsible for any violence on the border,” Maduro said after meeting his generals at their Fort Tiuna military headquarters in Caracas.

Guaido, recognized as interim leader by 50 countries, headed with some 80 lawmakers in a convoy to the Colombian border Thursday with his supporters to try to collect aid being stockpiled there.

The opposition leader said he had enlisted hundreds of thousands of volunteers to bring in aid in defiance of Maduro’s blockade, claiming 300,000 people could perish if the blockade continued.

The government has said soldiers will be stationed at crossing points to repel any “territorial violations.”

Crowds formed alongside a main highway out of the capital, waving Venezuelan flags and whooping in support as the convoy of buses departed. A road block at a tunnel some 100 kilometers along the main road forced several buses to stop, witnesses and lawmakers said.

“We have a commitment and that is to reach the border. We will try to get as far as we can,” lawmaker Mariela Magallanes told Reuters by telephone from the scene. “Humanitarian aid is not the whim of a few lawmakers, it is a necessity.”

Magallanes said her vehicle managed to pass through the tunnel after being stuck for several hours but other buses remained behind.

Guaido is poised for a showdown with Maduro’s beleaguered government Saturday, when the opposition plans to attempt to bring in food and medicine piling up on the Colombian side.

Maduro denies there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency on Jan. 23 and denounces Maduro as a usurper who has devastated the country. The economy’s size has halved over the past five years.

Some political analysts say Saturday’s border showdown is less about solving Venezuela’s needs and more about testing the military’s loyalty toward Maduro by daring it to turn the aid away. Guaido has offered future amnesties to military officers who disavow Maduro, though few have so far done so.Maduro accuses the Trump administration, which recognizes Guaido and has levied crippling sanctions against the Venezuelan government, of seeking to force his ouster.

Gustavo Marcano, senior aide to the opposition’s envoy to Washington, told reporters in the U.S. capital Thursday 11 diplomats in the U.S. had defected from Maduro’s government since Guaido declared himself interim president. He said bank accounts for Venezuelan embassies and consulates in the United States had been frozen and that Maduro’s diplomatic network in the country had ceased to function.

In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met with his Venezuelan counterpart Ivan Gil in a session that the Russian Foreign Ministry said was held in a constructive atmosphere.

“The Russian side expressed ... firm support for the policy of its government aimed at preventing destabilization in the country and supported the idea of holding a national dialogue,” the ministry said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 22, 2019, on page 1.

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