Supporters of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro attend a rally led by Constitutional Assembly president Diosdado Cabello in Urena on Monday. Nearly three weeks after the Trump administration backed an all-out effort to overthrow Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled leader’s hold on power appears shaken, but he is far from losing his grip. The world watches now whether Maduro’s government will let humanitarian aid from the US cross its borders. Fernando Llano AP African News Agency (ANA)
THE Venezuelan opposition this week went ahead with preparations to bring humanitarian aid into the country through Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean despite opposition from President Nicolas Maduro, whose government boosted its military presence on the border.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido called on Venezuelans to enlist as ­volunteers to help with receiving, stocking and distributing the aid, tweeting that nearly 100000 people had already done so.

“Organisation and mobilising everyone will be key to making the aid enter and achieving the end of the usurpation (by Maduro),” Guaido tweeted.

The opposition leader, who declared himself interim president on January23 and who has won the recognition of a large number of countries, has appealed for aid to help hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who, he says, are facing acute food and medicine shortages.

Maduro, who won an election in May that was widely regarded as undemocratic, has presided over hyperinflation and a plunge in oil production. More than threemillion Venezuelans have emigrated to escape the economic crisis and political unrest.

About 100 tons of US humanitarian aid are waiting in the Colombian border city of Cucuta after Venezuela blocked a key border bridge.

Preparations were meanwhile under way to set up a second aid collection centre in the Brazilian border state of Roraima, Lester Toledo, a Guaido representative, said after meeting Brazilian officials in the country’s capital.

Humberto Calderon, a Guaido-­appointed ambassador to Bogota, said the plan was to open aid collection centres in several regions of Colombia, as well as “in Brazil and some Caribbean islands”. Puerto Rico has announced it is sending aid to Venezuela.

Colombian foreign minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo stressed Bogota’s “total” commitment to getting the aid to “the Venezuelan brothers”.

The opposition is pinning its hopes on the army turning against Maduro and letting the aid in.

But Venezuela boosted troops on the Colombian border.

“We have a reinforced presence on the entire frontier, not because of the show of the humanitarian aid, but because of criminal activity that is coming in from Colombia,” broadcaster NTN24 quoted Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino as saying.

Guaido meanwhile announced on Twitter that he had already made a first aid delivery in Caracas, handing over 85000 envelopes of nutritive powder for children and 4500 supplements for pregnant women to an association of health centres. The aid did not, however, come from Cucuta, but had been authorised to enter Caracas in December before Guaido announced he was taking power.

Maduro, who regards the aid as a pretext for a US military intervention, on Sunday attended a large-scale military exercise.

“They cannot enter by land, because here are soldiers who would exact a high price from the US empire for any audacious act of touching the sacred soil of the Venezuelan fatherland,” he vowed.

The army, which is believed to be divided, is facing a dilemma: it either lets the aid in and disobeys the president, or blocks it and faces the wrath of Venezuelans in need of supplies.

Guaido reiterated his call on the army to allow aid to cross the border. “While we see some talk about war, militarism, we are talking about aid,” he said. dpa African News Agency (ANA)