President Nicolas Maduro has ordered Venezuela’s border with Brazil to be shut as the US-backed opposition prepared to bring in what it calls American “humanitarian aid.”
Maduro announced in a televised speech on Thursday that the vast border with Brazil would be closed “completely and absolutely” until further notice.
He called the aid delivery plans a US-orchestrated show, saying, “It’s better to prevent than to regret.”
The order also came after Colombian troops deployed “all of their capabilities” on the border with Venezuela in order to help the US package enter the country.
Maduro’s decree was issued amid stepped-up efforts by Venezuela’s parliamentary opposition leader Juan Guaidó to bring in the alleged aid.
Guaidó declared himself interim leader during anti-Maduro protests last month and was immediately recognized by the US and Brazil.
Maduro, accompanied by top military commanders on Thursday, said the administration of US President Donald Trump “aimed to generate a huge national mess, but they didn’t succeed.”
Brazil, in the meantime, said it was cooperating with the United States to supply aid to Venezuela, but the country would leave it to Venezuelans to take the goods over the border.
Maduro has said what Washington and the Venezuelan opposition call a humanitarian crisis “is nothing but a cover-up for military plans of the Trump government.”
The US has threatened several times to take military action against Venezuela to topple the elected government of Maduro amid anti-government protests.
#Maduro on humanitarian aid: “It’s a show, it’s a booby trap, they rob us 30 billion dollars and they offer us 20 million in rotten food, contaminated to try to intervene in #Venezuela, my God, leave the madness#TrumpHandsOffVenezuela
— nonouzi (@Gerrrty) February 19, 2019
Maduro said on Thursday that he was also considering a “total closure of the Colombian border.”
He warned that Trump and Colombian President Iván Duque were amassing military troops on the border of Colombia for a possible military invasion against his country.
Maduro also ordered a shipment of thousands of food boxes to be distributed to the needy along the Colombian border.
Venezuela’s government said “20,600 boxes” of food from the government’s long-running subsidized food distribution program had left for the Colombian border area from the port of La Guaira.
Maduro also announced this week that 300 tonnes of Russian humanitarian aid would be legally delivered to the international airport of Caracas.
The oil-rich country is facing an economic crisis, including in the form of shortages of foodstuff and medicine. Caracas calls the crisis part of a US-led economic war.
Military intervention doesn’t make sense: Brazil
Brazil Vice President Hamilton Mourao said a possible US military intervention against the oil-rich nation “wouldn’t make sense,” adding that Venezuela’s border closure “doesn’t signify an act of aggression.”
He also said Caracas “has the right to whatever it wants on its side of the border.”
A spokesman for far-right President Jair Bolsonaro said the border closure would not cause “frictions” between the neighbors.
Venezuela’s military, which has remained loyal to the president, said on Wednesday that it was on alert at the country’s frontiers.
“The armed forces will remain deployed and on alert… to avoid any violations of territorial integrity,” said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino.
The military also reaffirmed its support for Maduro after Trump threatened it to abandon the president or face dire consequences. The defense minister, appearing alongside senior officers, said any attempt to impose a new government would have to be done over “our dead bodies.”
The defense minister says the army will remain alert to prevent any territorial violations.
Opposition leaders on Wednesday offered an olive branch in a dramatic climb-down from their initial pledge to topple Maduro, proposing a transitional government which includes the current administration.
They said they maintain contact with government officials and military officers but keep such talks confidential to avoid affecting those involved.
“This transition requires a large national agreement between the country’s political forces,” said Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the opposition-run National Assembly.
He explained that any transition must include “Chavismo,” the left-wing movement founded by Venezuela’s late leader Hugo Chavez, who appointed Maduro as his successor.
Maduo won a second six-year term in the presidential election last year. The two leading opposition candidates rejected the results, saying the election was marred by vote-rigging.
Maduro warned both the United States and the opposition against any coup attempts. He called on Guaido “to abandon his coup-mongering strategy,” and “think carefully about what you are doing.”