23 February 2019 — Venezuela Analysis
Tensions surrounding the entry of “humanitarian aid” are set to rise this weekend.
Caracas, February 22, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – At least one person died and several were wounded in the Venezuelan town of Kumarakapay, on the border with Brazil.
According to reports, clashes erupted between the indigenous Pemon people and the Venezuelan National Guard as the latter moved tanks to shut down the border with Brazil. Local Mayor Emilio Gonzalez told Associated Press that security forces had fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. There were reports of a second casualty, and 12 to 14 wounded, which have yet to be confirmed.
President Maduro ordered Venezuela’s southern border with Brazil closed on Thursday. The measure took effect at 8 PM and will stay in place until further notice.
During a video conference with several armed forces commanders, Maduro instructed Major General Mantilla Oliveros, commander of the Guyana region defense, to strengthen security measures along the border in order to “protect the people.”
“Provocations need time in order to be dismantled,” he added.
Tensions along Venezuela’s borders have increased in recent weeks following self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaido’s pledges, with the backing of the US and allies, that humanitarian aid would make its way into Venezuela “no matter what.”
Venezuelan authorities have vowed not to let the aid enter, seeing it as a possible spark for foreign intervention and stressing that the aid amount pales in comparison to losses incurred by sanctions. International agencies, including the Red Cross and the United Nations, have also criticized attempts to “politicize” aid.
Reports emerged that aid was being prepared both in Brazil and in the Dutch Antilles, with the respective borders shut down on Thursday and Wednesday, respectively. On Thursday, Maduro likewise floated the possibility of closing the border with Colombia.
Humanitarian aid has been stockpiled in the Colombian town of Cucuta, a few miles from the border, with February 23 the date set by Guaido for aid to enter. Food and medical supplies, originally reported to meet the needs of 5,000 people for 10 days, was transported by US military planes to Cucuta.
The Venezuelan opposition has been registering thousands of volunteers to mobilize and bring in the aid at the border, while billionaire British media mogul Richard Branson is hosting a “Live Aid”-style concert on the Colombian border which opened on Friday morning.
The Venezuelan government has responded by hosting a concert of its own on the Venezuelan side of the border, also underway on Friday, as well as pledging to bring 20,000 CLAP boxes of subsidized food and medical attention to communities in Cucuta.
Venezuelan authorities also reported on Thursday that the European Union had pledged US $2 billion worth of aid, termed as “technical assistance,” to be channeled through the United Nations.
According to Nicolas Maduro, the amount was pledged by the International Contact Group, headed by Uruguay and the European Union. The Venezuelan president also announced that 7.5 tonnes of medicine, supplied by Russia and the Panamerican Health Organization would be arriving shortly. A larger shipment of over 900 tonnes of medicine, bought from Cuba and China, also arrived on February 14.
Vice President Delcy Rodriguez told press on Thursday that Caracas had requested food and medical aid from the United Nations, but that the Venezuelan government was willing to support some of the costs.