The Venezuelan military has attempted to block humanitarian aid from entering the country by barricading a bridge at a key border crossing, Colombian officials said Wednesday.
The bridge was blocked a day prior by the Venezuelan National Guard with a fuel tanker, two cargo trailers and makeshift fencing near the border town of Cucuta in Colombia.
“It’s a means of intimidation, but I don’t think it will accomplish anything,” said Alba Pereira of nonprofit Entre Dos Tierras. “It’s convenient for them to let the country continue enduring this absurd crisis.”
Roughly 40 countries around the world have backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who says he’s assumed presidential powers as head of the opposition-led National Assembly and hopes to oust President Nicolas Maduro and restore democracy to Venezuela.
Guaido said humanitarian aid will begin flowing into the South American country despite Maduro’s objections.
But a defiant Maduro maintains control of the military and calls the Guaido-led opposition a puppet of the United States, which he says is seeking to colonize Venezuela and exploit its vast oil resources.
“We are not beggars,” Maduro said this week in a speech to troops broadcast on state TV, adding that there is no humanitarian crisis.
Guaido has described the emergency shipments as a “test” for Venezuela’s armed forces, which will have to choose if they allow the much needed aid to pass, or if they instead obey orders.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, U.S. President Donald Trump ratcheted up pressure on the embattled Maduro government, saying that the U.S. stands with the people of Venezuela in their “noble quest for freedom.”
“We condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” Trump said.
The White House has announced that Colombian President Ivan Duque and First Lady Maria Juliana Ruiz Sandoval will visit on Feb. 13 to discuss pro-growth policies, terrorism and illicit narcotic networks, regional security partnerships and efforts to restore democracy in Venezuela.
Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo on Wednesday condemned any attempts to block aid from entering.
Speaking in Washington, Trujillo said he also spoke about the Venezuelan crisis in a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton.
“Committing such a crime would give even more reason for the unified countries to ask the International Criminal Court to investigate Maduro,” Trujillo told reporters after another meeting with the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro.
Colombia, which shares a 1,370-mile (2,200-kilometer) border with Venezuela, is also backing Guaido.
Associated Press writer Scott Smith contributed from Caracas, Venezuela. AP writer Luis Alonso contributed to this report from Washington.