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Standoff in Venezuela over aid, as Maduro closes border with Brazil
Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, closed its southern border with Brazil on Thursday, and he has threatened to close its western border with Colombia as opposition leader Juan Guaido went to personally pick up aid being stockpiled on the other side. Shipments of food and medicine have become a key focus of the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido.
Recognised by more than 50 countries, including France, as Venezuela’s interim president, Guaido left Caracas to make the 900 kilometre trip in a convoy of several vehicles, with about 80 lawmakers. Security forces stopped several of the lorries and forced their drivers to get out, but the rest of the caravan was allowed to continue.
"We know that the regime is going to put all obstacles to prevent us from reaching the border, but nothing is stopping us, we are going to continue," said opposition lawmaker Yanet Fermin.
Tonnes of aid sent by the United States and Colombia are sitting in warehouses on the Colombian side of the border. The opposition says it wants to get it to relieve widespread food and medicine shortages in the wake of Venezuela’s economic collapse.
Maduro has called the caravan a "cheap show" and said aid from the US was a precursor to military intervention.
Guaido still has not detailed how aid would enter Venezuela. Some have suggested human chains across the land borders to pass packages from person to person, and fleets of boats arriving from the Dutch Caribbean islands.
Maduro warned Thursday he was considering "a total closure of the border with Colombia", which would effectively shut down all legal land access to Venezuela, after he ordered the complete closure of the border with Brazil.
He had already ordered the military to barricade a major border bridge to prevent supplies from entering from Cucuta, where tons of humanitarian aid, mostly from the United States, are being stockpiled.
The government has said soldiers will be stationed at official crossing points to repel any "territorial violations", although the opposition could attempt to cross anywhere.
"I charge [Colombian President] Ivan Duque with any violence that might occur on the border," Maduro said in televised comments, surrounded by the military high command.
In Brazil, Maria Teresa Belandria, Guaido's ambassador, said 100 tonnes of food, medication and emergency kits are waiting to be driven from Boa Vista to Pacaraima on the Venezuelan border.
Guaido's growing support
On Thursday Guaido got backing from 11 US-based Venezuelan diplomats, who defected from Maduro’s government, an important symbolic show support.
A retired general and former military intelligence chief to Hugo Chavez, Hugo Carvajal, released a video on social media offering his support to Guiado, and calling on the armed forces to break from Maduro.
Peru's state agency Andina reported that Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra received Guaido’s appointed ambassador Carlos Scull.
British entrepreneur Richard Branson plans to hold a pro-aid concert just inside Colombia on Friday, while Maduro's government will stage a rival concert on its side of the border, 300 metres away.
And US Vice-President Mike Pence is to visit Colombia on Monday, in a show of support to Guiado, to discuss the crisis with leaders of the regional Lima Group of nations.