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Maduro shuts Brazil border, eyes Colombia



By Argus

Petroleumworld 02 22 2019

Venezuela´s sitting president Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of the country´s border with Brazil and is now threatening to shut the Colombian border in a bid to block the entry of humanitarian aid that he says is politically motivated.

Venezuela´s opposition -- led by National Assembly president Juan Guaidó whom the US and some 50 other countries recognize as the legitimate president -- is planning to bring food and medicine across the Colombian border at four crossing points starting on 23 February.

The opposition is calling for simultaneous demonstrations inside Venezuela and popular marches to military headquarters to demand a peaceful transition.

Brazil´s government denied that any border closure had taken place as of this afternoon. "The aid delivery plans are still in place," said presidential spokesman Otávio Santana do Rêgo Barros. "The border is still open with normal traffic." Aid will be collected at Pacaraima (Roraima state) for Venezuelans to pick up and deliver, he said. "The facts, the events, the actions unleashed beyond our borders are, of course, the responsibility of the Venezuelan government."

Venezuela's opposition appears to be trying to overwhelm the country from inside and outside in an effort to break down resistance from the armed forces and compel Maduro to step down. Venezuela´s senior military ranks that control much of the economy have remained mostly loyal to Maduro so far, despite repeated offers of amnesty from Guaidó and his allies.

Since this morning, opposition-organized convoys heading west from Caracas to the Colombian border have been running into national guard roadblocks. The central La Cabrera tunnel has been closed, stranding some of the opposition buses and trucks.

A presidential palace official predicted the border with Colombia will be shut down within hours. But Venezuela´s 2,200km border with Colombia is notoriously porous and would be difficult to control.

Earlier this week Venezuela partially closed its border with the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

Under the US-led aid campaign, food and medicine are warehoused in Colombia, Brazil and Curacao. The main aid stockpile is in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, the first stop for most Venezuelan migrants fleeing hunger and persecution.

The Maduro government overnight banned all private flights in Venezuelan air space "indefinitely," an official with the government's civil aviation authority Inac tells Argus .

Humanitarian aid will enter Venezuela across the Simon Bolivar, Paula Santander Arellano, Las Tienditas and La Unión bridges, national assembly deputy Jose Manuel Olivares said in Cúcuta. Venezuela has already barricaded Las Tienditas with two shipping containers and a tanker truck since last week.

Thousands of Venezuelan refugees currently living in the streets and parks of Cúcuta are expected to accompany the aid caravans into Venezuela where they will be met by thousands of volunteers dressed in white who will be waiting to help distribute the aid, Olivares said.

Dozens of observers from other Latin American and EU countries, the US and Canada also will be in Cúcuta to ensure peace prevails and the Maduro government is held accountable for its actions, he said.

Many people in Cúcuta are currently distracted by a day-long aid concert that will be held tomorrow on the Colombian side of the Las Tienditas bridge. Maduro is planning to hold a rival concert on the other side of the crossing.

According to Colombia's foreign minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, senior foreign government officials who will be in Cucutá tomorrow, alongside Colombia's president Ivan Duque, include Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, Paraguay's president Mario Abdo, Brazilian foreign minister Ernesto Araujo, Organization of American States (OAS) secretary general Luis Almagro and a group of European Parliament members who were recently blocked from entering Venezuela.

US special envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams is also traveling to Cúcuta to accompany the humanitarian effort, the US State Department said.

Echoing Brazil's foreign minister, Holmes said the process of transport and border crossing is the responsibility of Venezuela's opposition, and Colombia is just providing logistical support.

"The responsibility of Colombia is fulfilled in Colombian territory," he said.

Colombia plans to restrict pedestrian migration on 23 February to facilitate the cross-border transport of the aid, he said.

The Lima Group of Latin American countries plus Canada that are coordinating actions on Venezuela will meet in Bogotá on 25 February, with the presence of US vice president Mike Pence.




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