Venezuela denies troops shot civilians; Guaido appears at aid concert
The top diplomat for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denied Friday that soldiers were involved in deadly clashes with indigenous people near his country’s border with Brazil, while Venezuela’s US-backed self-proclaimed acting president, Juan Guaido, made a surprise appearance at a star-studded benefit concert in Colombia.
“What happened this morning has nothing to do with the versions that have circulated. In fact, some of the wounded are wounded by sharp weapons, machetes, even arrows,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told a press conference at UN headquarters.
The weapons used “do not correspond” to those carried by Venezuelan soldiers, Arreaza said, denouncing what he called a strategy of blaming Maduro for anything bad that happens in Venezuela.
He warned that the United States and its allies will try to blame the Maduro government for anything untoward that may occur on Saturday as supporters of Guaido try to bring US aid into the country over the objections of authorities.
The original report of two deaths in the southeastern Venezuelan state of Bolivia came from an opposition lawmaker.
The deaths came amid clashes that began after Maduro ordered the closure of the Brazil border in a bid to block the entry of humanitarian aid, Americo De Grazia said.
“Rolando Garcia ... is the second fatal victim of (National Guard) Gen. Jose Montoya’s criminal operation,” De Grazia said on Twitter, adding that three other individuals had suffered serious gunshot wounds
Members of the Pemon indigenous group clashed with soldiers to prevent them from blocking the cross-border flow of aid, according to De Grazia.
Maduro refuses to permit the aid to cross the border, saying it is a Trojan horse for a US-led military intervention. He also has said he is considering closing the border with Colombia, where more aid supplies have been stockpiled.
Venezuela’s armed forces have remained solidly behind Maduro even though the US and dozens of other countries recognize Guaido as interim head of state.
Donations of aid from the US and other countries are being stockpiled in Colombia and Brazil, as well as the island of Curaçao.
The largest concentration of aid is in the Colombian border city of Cucuta, which was also the venue for Friday’s Venezuela Aid Live concert, organized by British billionaire Richard Branson.
Guaido arrived in Cucuta late Friday in time for the finale of the show meant to raise money for humanitarian relief in Venezuela.
The speaker of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly was embraced by the presidents of Colombia, Ivan Duque; Chile, Sebastian Piñera; and Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benitez; and by Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro, who spent the day in Cucuta for the Venezuela Aid Live event.
Guaido, the trio of presidents and Almagro made their way through the crowd and took spots in front of the stage to watch Colombian superstar Juanes and Venezuelan performers Chyno Miranda finish their set.
This is the first time Guaido has set foot outside Venezuela since declaring himself acting head of state on Jan. 23.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which is allied with Maduro, barred Guaido from leaving the country while he remains under investigation for his attempt to seize power.
A video posted online showed Guaido and a handful of aides and supporters jogging across a bridge linking Venezuela to Colombia.
“Thank you. Here we are. This bridge is mine. We can, we can, of course we can,” Guaido is heard to say as he advances toward Colombia.
The concert took place at the Colombian end of the Tienditas bridge, a modern span completed in 2016 that has never been opened to traffic.
Warehouses in Cucuta are holding 600 tons of humanitarian aid meant to be brought into Venezuela on Saturday. The aid has been provided by the US and other countries in response to an appeal from Guaido.
Organizers said that more than 200,000 people attended the concert, whose stated aim was to raise $100 million within 60 days to be used for assistance to Venezuela.
The 32 performers from Argentina, Colombia, Spain, the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Sweden and Venezuela agreed to donate their time and talent to the project, Branson said.
Branson’s friend Bruno Ocampo, a Colombian businessman, said that the idea for Venezuela Aid Live took shape during a video-conference among him, Branson, Guaido and Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who remains under house arrest for his role in an abortive 2002 coup against Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez , and in violent anti-government protests in 2014.
Venezuela’s opposition, as well as much of the international community, regards Maduro’s May 2018 re-election victory to be fraudulent.
Besides the US, the major European nations - save Italy - are among the roughly 50 governments that have recognized Guaido.
Several dozen other countries, including Russia, China and India, continue to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s president.