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Some aid reaches Venezuela, trucks burn



By Argus

Petroleumworld 02 25 2019

Venezuela's sitting president Nicolas Maduro broke relations with neighboring Colombia today amid clashes at border crossings where the US-backed political opposition tried unsuccessfully to bring in humanitarian aid.

The unrest could presage a drawn-out conflict in the Opec country, where new US oil sanctions have accelerated a decline in crude production and exports.

Two trucks carrying aid that crossed into Ureña in the western Venezuelan state of Táchira this afternoon erupted in flames as they were attacked by Venezuelan national police and paramilitaries, according to opposition accounts.

In a separate incident, a ship carrying aid from Puerto Rico was intercepted by a Venezuelan navy ship and was forced to turn back.

Some aid trucks traversed the border with Brazil this morning, but tensions ran high there as well after clashes since yesterday killed and injured numerous members of the Pemon indigenous community in southern Venezuela.

A total of 285 people were injured today, including 255 Venezuelans and 30 Colombians, Colombian foreign minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said this evening. More than 60 members of Venezuela´s military, including several officers, arrived unarmed in Colombia seeking refuge, he said. The trucks that were not burned have returned to Colombia, and the aid unloaded into the warehouses for safe keeping, he said.

Maduro accused Colombian president Ivan Duque of supporting a US-orchestrated coup led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom the US, Canada and most of Latin America and the EU recognize as Venezuela´s interim president.

Ground zero for the humanitarian campaign is the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, where Duque, accompanied by Chile´s president Sebastián Piñera, Paraguay´s president Mario Abdo and Organization of American States (OAS) secretary general Luis Almagro, this morning reiterated a call on Venezuela´s military to let the aid through.

As the day wore on, it became clear that the high-profile aid campaign had not succeeded in breaking down military resistance, despite a growing number of defections.

This evening in Cúcuta, a solemn Guaidó announced that he will participate in a 25 February meeting of the Lima Group of Latin American countries and Canada in Bogotá, where US vice president Mike Pence will also be in attendance. He addressed Venezuela´s military: "You don´t owe your loyalty to someone who burns food in front of people who are hungry, and medicine in front of people who are sick." Lamenting the dead and injured in today´s clashes, he vowed that the "sacrifice will not be vain."

In his earlier remarks, Duque said the "cowardly and dangerous dictatorship has activated gangs in some places to cause unrest and block the aid from reaching its territory, committing what could become serious crimes against humanity."

Maduro announced the immediate suspension of "all political and diplomatic relations" with Colombia, and ordered all Colombian diplomatic personnel out of Venezuela within 24 hours.

Colombia said it does not recognize Maduro´s legitimacy, but will bring the diplomats home for their safety.

Speaking at a loyalist rally in Caracas today, Maduro declared he will "never under any circumstances surrender, but always will defend our nation with my life if necessary."

He called on his loyal military and civilian supporters to take to the streets and defend the Bolivarian revolution "if something happens to me someday."

Speaking from the military high command headquarters in Caracas yesterday, Maduro said the opposition was trying to "weaken, divide and demoralize" the military and demanded loyalty.

In a Tweet this afternoon, US national security adviser John Bolton warned Venezuela's military to "Embrace democracy, protect civilians, and allow in humanitarian aid; or face even more sanctions and isolation."

Washington is the chief patron of the Venezuelan opposition movement, supplying most of the aid at border points in Colombia, Brazil and the Dutch Caribbean island Curacao. But the US administration is not showing signs of preparation to confront Maduro beyond using Twitter and official statements to implore members of his regime and the military to switch sides.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and other aid organizations have refused to take part in the campaign which they see as violating their commitment to political neutrality.




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