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Venezuela limits border transit with Dutch Caribbean isles to block humanitarian aid



By Argus

Petroleumworld 02 20 2019

Venezuela has partially closed its borders with the Dutch Caribbean in an effort to block the entry of humanitarian aid this weekend.

The air and maritime transit restrictions apply to small watercraft and aircraft, according to an order given by Venezuelan navy vice admiral Vladimir Quintero Martinez, commander of the ministry's regional integral defense zone (Zodi) based in Falcón state.

The information was relayed to Argus by a Zodi official in Falcón. The closure applies only to a small area between Falcón state and Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, which are known as the ABC islands. The order also suspended the issuance of official sailing permits from all ports in the Falcón region.

The Dutch foreign ministry said it has not received any official confirmation of the closure. The same message was conveyed by officials on the islands.

It is unclear if Quintero acted on his own initiative or received orders from higher up in the chain of command. Neither Venezuela´s defense ministry nor the foreign ministry has issued a statement.

The move would thwart a possible maritime and air flotilla of small boats and aircraft carrying aid that the Netherlands last week agreed to stockpile in Curacao in coordination with the US and other countries and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom most western countries recognize as Venezuela´s president.

Sitting president Nicolas Maduro, whom Russia, China, Turkey and a few Latin American and Caribbean countries still recognize as president, refuses to let in the aid, calling it a Trojan horse for US intervention. Most of the aid is warehoused in the Colombian border city of Cucutá, where a pro-opposition concert in support of the aid campaign is scheduled for 22 February. The following day the aid will go into Venezuela, Guaidó has pledged, without indicating how it will happen. Venezuela has barricaded the main crossing into Colombia.

Aid is also being collected in the bordering Brazilian state of Roraima. The Brazilian government said today it is "mobilizing an inter-ministerial task force to define the logistics" of providing aid to Venezuela on 23 February, "in response to the call of interim president Juan Guaidó."

Venezuela´s opposition-controlled National Assembly, which is headed by Guaidó, today authorized the delivery of international humanitarian aid to Venezuela from Colombia, Brazil and the ABC islands, and ordered the armed forces to dismantle the blockade at the Las Tienditas bridge leading to Cucutá, and allow and assist the entry of the aid. But aside from some defections, Venezuela´s armed forces, which control much of the formal and informal economy, have remained loyal to Maduro.

Venezuela´s national oil company PdV has an extensive logistical network across the Dutch Caribbean, where it stores crude and carries out ship-to-ship operations for longer-haul destinations. These operations are not affected by the closure.

PdV has been scrambling to adjust to oil sanctions imposed by Washington on 28 January. The sanctions are aimed at forcing Maduro to step down.

Venezuela last closed its borders with the islands in January 2018, alleging that they were not doing enough to control smuggling. The borders were reopened in April 2018 following an agreement with the Netherlands to jointly discuss contraband and other issues such as migration.




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