At least 20 injured in clashes at Venezuela-Colombia border


Clashes between members of Venezuela’s National Guard and protesters in this town on the Venezuela-Colombia border left around a score of people injured on Saturday.

The disturbances in Ureña, Tachira state, erupted amid a row over an operation that began Saturday to deliver international humanitarian aid across the border to Venezuela.

The injured were taken to a private clinic in Ureña, where specialists confirmed to EFE that around 20 people had been taken for treatment after clashes with the security forces.

Three people were hit by pellets, one of whom was struck in the eye, while the others were suffering the effects of tear gas inhalation.

Earlier reports said an armed forces militiaman had been struck in the head with a rock during the clash, in which demonstrators hurled rocks and security forces responded with tear gas.

Leftist President Nicolas Maduro on Friday ordered the closure of international border crossings in Tachira to prevent the delivery of international aid shipments from Colombia that he says threaten Venezuela’s sovereignty.

Venezuelan opposition leader - and self-proclaimed interim president - Juan Guaido on Friday defied a Supreme Court order barring him from leaving the country and attended a massive fundraising concert organized by British businessman Richard Branson outside Cucuta, Colombia, where much of the international aid has been stockpiled.

On Saturday, he received that humanitarian aid from Colombian President Ivan Duque. They were joined in Cucuta by Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, Paraguayan head of state Mario Abdo Benitez and Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro.

Guaido, who said aid was already being delivered across the Venezuela-Brazil border, called on his country’s armed forces to put themselves on the “right side of history” and allow the entry of 14 trucks that left Cucuta on Saturday with 280 tons of humanitarian aid for Venezuela, which has been suffering from long-standing food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation.

Around 100 people gathered Saturday at one of the border crossings in Tachira - the Francisco de Paula Santander international bridge - to demand that the military stop blocking the way.

The protests led to disturbances at a spot around 100 meters from the bridge, where EFE observed that clashes were breaking out roughly every 20 minutes.

That area is home to several schools where a group of people believed to be members of pro-government militias stayed overnight in order to support the government’s border-sealing actions in that state.

The sergeant was apparently struck in the head by one of the rocks that demonstrators threw at buses parked near the schools.

The demonstrators, some of them hooded, also shouted slogans at the supposed pro-government militia members, urging them to leave the schools and desert.

After the sergeant was taken to a clinic by ambulance and the tension subsided, the militia members - some of them crying - left the schools and took off their uniforms while the demonstrators applauded.

Clashes are continuing between protesters and the National Guard, while one block away a larger group of demonstrators carrying crucifixes and rosaries pleaded with soldiers to allow the entry of humanitarian aid sent to Cucuta by the United States and other countries.

Maduro’s government, however, said the situation on the border with Colombia was “completely normal” and blamed Colombia for seeking to disturb the peace in Venezuela.

“Here the border is peaceful, calm,” government spokesman Freddy Bernal said via telephone in remarks to state-owned VTV from the Simon Bolivar International Bridge.

EFE also observed that there were no disturbances at that border crossing.

Maduro, who says the aid is a Trojan horse for a US-led military intervention, also has shuttered Venezuela’s border with Brazil and cut off sea and air links with the nearby Dutch islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao as part of his bid to prevent aid shipments.

Maduro enjoys the near-full backing of the military, although on Saturday Colombia’s migration agency said that at least four members of Venezuela’s National Guard deserted their posts, crossed the border and sought the protection of authorities in Cucuta.

The US and its key Latin American allies, most of the major European countries (save Italy) and many other nations reject Maduro’s May 2018 re-election victory as a sham and have recognized Guaido - the speaker of the opposition-led National Assembly - as acting head of state.

Several dozen other countries, including Russia, China and India, continue to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s president.