Venezuela’s Maduro closes border with Brazil amid humanitarian aid dispute


Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday said he was shutting the border with Brazil amid an international battle over plans to deliver humanitarian aid to the crisis-racked country.

He also said he was considering issuing a similar decree to close Venezuela’s border with Colombia, making those remarks on a day when his chief rival, National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido, traveled to the Venezuela-Colombia border to coordinate aid shipments from that neighboring country.

“I’ve decided (that) ... starting at 8 pm on Thursday, Feb. 21, the land border with Brazil will be completely and entirely closed until further notice,” the leftist head of state said during a meeting with armed forces officials at the Fuerte Tiuna military base in Caracas.

Brazil is one of around 50 countries that recognize Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela, an oil-rich country that is facing severe shortages of basic goods and is racked by hyperinflation.

Donations of food and medicine have been stockpiled in the northwestern Brazilian state of Roraima as part of an aid-delivery plan that is being coordinated by Guaido but is rejected by Maduro.

The Venezuelan leader says the humanitarian aid initiative is a ruse and that the opposition’s ultimate goal is a military invasion aimed at ending 20 years of leftist rule.

Maduro also said he was mulling the possibility of closing the border with Colombia, where other international aid for Venezuela has been stockpiled.

He said that a plan was being concocted in Colombia to justify a foreign military intervention and that that neighboring country’s president, Ivan Duque, would be responsible for any violence on the border.

Maduro added, however, that he has learned that Colombia’s armed forces have informed Duque they will not participate in any attack on Venezuela.

Also Thursday, opposition leaders told EFE that Guaido has arrived at Venezuela’s border with Colombia and is awaiting a caravan of buses transporting numerous other allied lawmakers.

That information came after spokespersons for Guaido had said the opposition leader was riding in one of the buses that left Caracas on Thursday morning bound for the border city of San Cristobal.

Videos uploaded to social media showed members of Venezuela’s National Guard blocking the caravan and the opposition lawmakers stepping off the buses.

The footage showed tear gas being fired and a brief confrontation between the legislators and the guardsmen at the La Cabrera tunnel that links the central states of Aragua and Carabobo.

Other videos showed the lawmakers making their way through the tunnel on foot, although later the buses could be seen driving around the roadblock.

Guaido has said that the humanitarian aid donated by different countries and being stored at border points in Colombia and Brazil, as well as in Curacao (an island just north of Venezuela), would be brought in to the country on Saturday.

Such a move would be in defiance of Maduro, who says Venezuela has long been the victim of US-led economic warfare and earlier this month described the aid as a “rotten gift” carrying the “poison of humiliation.”