In a move that will surprise no one, the opposition leader in Venezuela, Juan Guaidó has called on the international community to consider “all options” in ousting the regime of Nicholas Maduro.
The tension has been ramping up for a long time and it reached the boiling point over the weekend. Workers trying to cross the border in Venezuela with relief supplies were fired upon with buckshot and tear gas, with two of the trucks catching fire and burning. Two people were killed and over 300 wounded.
With the Venezuelan people in dire need of food and medicine, with millions fleeing to Colombia, the United States had airlifted tons of relief supplies with other countries to ease the suffering of the people. The plan was to conduct a “humanitarian avalanche” that would aid the people starving and further undermine Maduro’s regime.
Maduro, who has grown increasingly authoritarian refused to allow the aid to cross the border. He claims that the allowing of U.S.aid into the country is just a preliminary move to an invasion. His Vice President went on to say that the U.S. was trying to push food with carcinogens to poison the people. But for the starving people of Venezuela, they were encouraging the military to allow the aid to pass.
On Saturday morning, eight trucks carrying food and medical supplies tried to pass thru the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Three made it across before the rest were stopped, with two of the trucks being incinerated. Some of the aid, based on the Brazilian border did make it thru to Venezuela before the military closed the border.
On the Simon Bolivar Bridge that separates Venezuela and Colombia, Venezuelan people attempted to make a human chain to keep the border open and allow the aid to move into the country. They tore down the barricades and threw them into the river. The military responded by firing tear gas into the crowds to disperse them.
About 100 members of the Venezuelan military have defected, crossing across the bridge into Colombian territory. Most were lower-ranking soldiers, the most senior was a major including three men who drove their armored vehicle across the bridge. None of the defecting soldiers, however, were battalion commanders or higher in rank.
Guaidó, who proclaimed himself interim President in January after calling out the sham election of a year ago where Maduro banned most opposition leaders from running for office has been recognized by over 50 countries as the legitimate leader.
He spoke after the violence at the bridge and called for the international coalition, the Lima Group, that has supported him to consider “all options” to resolve this ongoing crisis that has paralyzed the once-thriving country.
Speaking to the media, he addressed the people and most especially the military members of Venezuela. “How many of you national guardsmen have a sick mother? How many have kids in school without food,” he said. “You don’t owe any obedience to a sadist … who celebrates the denial of humanitarian aid the country needs.”
He was to meet Monday with members of the Lima Group including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Bogota. His close ally and ambassador to the Lima Group, Julio Borges who is exiled from Venezuela after being a member of Congress ramped up the rhetoric even more.
“We are going to demand an escalation of diplomatic pressure … and the use of force against Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship,” he said.
This may be welcomed news to the more hawkish members of the Trump administration, including the President, who hinted at using force to remove Maduro as far back as 2017, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who said on Sunday’s CNN “State of the Union” that Maduro’s “days are numbered,” calling him “a sick tyrant.”
But to the Latin American members of the Lima Group, an armed incursion into Venezuela led by the Americans is the last thing they want to see. Even the much more conservative governments of Colombia and Brazil are on record as stating that they’re against a military solution.
Democrats in the U.S. wasted little time in denouncing this latest development. Chris Murphy, a Senator from Connecticut and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee blamed the violence on the Trump Administration.
“Cheering humanitarian convoys sounds like the right thing to do, but what if it’s not about the aid? What if the real agenda is laying a pretext for war?” Murphy tweeted.
Maduro may take this reluctance on the part of the coalition and the Democrats as a weakness and may dig in his heels, but many Latin American leaders now will see this as a time when they use all their diplomatic skills to maneuver Maduro out of power as peacefully as possible.
In a recent poll, over 50 percent of the people were in favor of Maduro stepping down, while more than 50 percent were against any form of military intervention to oust him, hardly the numbers the regime was looking for.
With increasing numbers of soldiers defecting, the rank and file of the Venezuelan army are either fed up or too scared to rise up against the regime. Maduro has courted the senior leadership with money, real estate, and titles. But they have to see the handwriting on the wall. All it will take is for one or two of the high ranking officers to turn and the floodgates will open.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials characterize this as only just the beginning calling this latest episode, “barely the first inning” of the crisis.
Photo: Juan Guaidó – Getty Images