Venezuela accused of starving its people as aid blocked at border

Associated Press

A photo of a barricaded bridge reveals a heartbreaking story of how aid is being blocked from a country plagued by food and medicine shortages.

The Tienditas International Bridge was blocked by the Venezuelan military at a key border crossing with Colombia this week, to stop the humanitarian aid from reaching Venezuela.

Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro has vowed not to let the supplies reach the country. However opposition leader Juan Gaido is promising to deliver it.

Maduro is refusing to allow the aid, arguing Venezuela isn’t a nation of “beggars”. He has long rejected receiving humanitarian assistance, equating to a foreign intervention.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted the Venezuelan people desperately needed humanitarian aid.

“The US and other countries are trying to help, but Venezuela’s military under Maduro’s orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE,” he said.

Aid is being blocked from Venezuela. Source: AP
Aid is being blocked from Venezuela. Source: AP

Venezuelan Jose Mendoza stood at the entrance to the Colombian side of the bridge holding a sign that said: “Humanitarian aid now.”

Mendoza, 22, said he is tired of seeing Venezuelans suffer from food and medical shortages and that the military should stand on the side of suffering Venezuelans.

“They have to be by the side of the people and support us,” Mendoza said.

“They have family members who are dying of hunger. The call is for them too.”

Roughly 40 countries around the world have backed Guaido, who swore himself in as president in late January contending that as head of the opposition-led National Assembly he is Venezuela’s rightful leader because Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham.

Guaido says the emergency shipment is a “test” for Venezuela’s armed forces, which will have to choose if they allow the much needed aid to pass, or if they instead obey orders. No details have been released on exactly how the opposition plans to get the shipments into Venezuela.

Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro says it’s not a country of “beggars”. Source: AP
Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro says it’s not a country of “beggars”. Source: AP

Venezuelans struggle to find or afford basic necessities

Soaring hyperinflation has forced millions of Venezuelans to flee or go hungry as they struggle to find or afford basic goods and medicine.

Guaido on Wednesday accused Maduro’s government of rejecting the assistance because officials often handed out imported food and medicine in exchange for bribes.

Speaking to farmers, Guaido said the transitional government he’s mounting to replace Maduro is taking steps to make Venezuela self-reliant.

“We don’t want to depend more on a food subsidies than is necessary today,” he said, calling the blockade an “absurd reaction from a government that doesn’t have the interest and well-being of Venezuelans” in mind.

Maduro has clung to power with the support of Venezuela’s highest-ranking military officers. He dismisses Guaido as a puppet of the United States, which he says is seeking to colonise Venezuela and exploit its vast oil resources.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Donald Trump vowed to ratchet up pressure on Maduro, saying that the US stands with the people of Venezuela.

A woman protests against the blocking of supplies to Venezuela. Source: AP
A woman protests against the blocking of supplies to Venezuela. Source: AP

“We condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair,” Trump said.

In a trip to Washington on Wednesday, Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said that any attempt to block aid from entering Venezuela is tantamount to “a crime”.

Colombia shares a 2200km border with Venezuela and is backing Guaido. The neighbouring Andean nation has received over one million Venezuelan migrants in the last three years.

Looking up at the giant containers blocking the bridge Wednesday, aid worker Alba Pereira shook her head and dismissed the barricade as another government ploy. She said that humanitarian volunteers would find a way to get the aid into the country regardless.

“It’s a means of intimidation,” said Pereira, director of the nonprofit Entre Dos Tierras, which aids Venezuelans migrants.

“But I don’t think it will accomplish anything.”

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