The international humanitarian relief coalition came to a halt Saturday afternoon, and ordered the return of two convoys carrying aid to Venezuela, after unarmed civilians, acting as human shields, were attacked and two trucks were burned by the country’s National Police and paramilitary militias under Nicolás Maduro’s regime while crossing the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge in the neighboring country.
Of the eight trucks laden with food, personal hygiene products and medicines to help thousands of people, including the critically ill, three managed to cross the border and enter Venezuela.
However, none of the Colombian convoys were able to deliver aid.
According to Colombia’s Minister of Defense Guillermo Botero, 285 civilians were injured by Venezuelan police and masked militia inside Venezuela, presenting injuries from tear gas and “unconventional weapons.” Most entered Colombia on dirt tracks to receive medical assistance, and at least 37 remain hospitalized.
Another 50 Venezuelans were injured in Santa Helena de Urian, a town near the Brazilian border, where one aid truck managed to cross, confirmed Luis Almagro, Secretary-General of the Organization of the American States (OAS), who acted as an observer of the aid convoy.
Maduro: On the wrong side of history
The OAS is supporting Colombia’s part in the humanitarian effort by recognizing that such an undertaking responds to the legitimate request of Venezuela’s National Assembly and the interim President of Venezuela Juan Guaidó to help “an oppressed people,” while respecting international law.
Colombian president Iván Duque warned Nicolás Maduro, early Saturday, that stopping aid from entering Venezuela constitutes a “crime against humanity.” And, referring to Marudo as a usurper, asked “the Armed Forces of Venezuela to stand on the correct side of history, and receive their brothers during the humanitarian aid effort.”
“The world witnessed the barbaric dictatorship that oppresses Venezuela,” President Duque said, and assured that Saturday’s events must be “an opportunity for the world to unite and tell the dictatorship ‘enough.'”
“The Venezuelan dictatorship can resort to violence to prevent the aid from entering, but today it has sealed its moral defeat, its diplomatic defeat,” said President Duque.
OAS backs Guaidó
Luis Almagro, in his OAS report, stated that “today, we evidenced the lies of a regime that speaks of armed actions and invasion, yet the reality is its intent to assassinate unarmed civilians. These type of actions are unacceptable.”
“We have witnessed how civilians defied the flames to recuperate boxes of aid,” he remarked.
“This opprobrious regime attributes itself a victory for having assassinated its own people […] for having burned trucks carrying humanitarian aid, for condemning its people to more hunger and illness. That is the Maduro regime,” Almagro stated.
Guaidó’s message to the military
Interim President Juan Guaidó, who turned-up last Friday in Colombia after running across an abandoned border crossing with the help of loyal Venezuelan military staff, in order for him to oversee the convoy operations on Saturday, said, “the entire world saw how a man (Maduro) doesn’t care about the suffering of the people of Venezuela. He burned food in front of the hungry, he burned medicine in front of the sick.”
Assuring that 80 percent of the military rejects Maduro’s regime, Guaidó spoke directly to those who still plea their loyalty to Maduro, and assured them that they cannot remain faithful to a dictatorship that “celebrates the massacre of its people.” Guaidó went on to say, “you don’t owe obedience to a person who, sadistically, celebrates the fact that humanitarian aid could not reach a country that needs it.”
As of Sunday, 156 members of Venezuela’s security forces deserted the regime and have asked for asylum in Colombia. Among them, Generals, senior army officials and rank-and-file soldiers and police.
Migración Colombia, the entity in charge of immigration, will study each case independently, granting provisional special immigrant status until each process is approved.
Venezuela’s National Assembly and interim President Guaidó have offered amnesty to all military personnel who defect the regime.
Lima Group’s possible outcome
Guaidó has pledged that “we will not rest until we achieve freedom in Venezuela.” He also announced that he will participate in the Lima Group assembly in Bogotá to follow a concerted strategy to help Venezuela attain its freedom. “Our responsibility as a people is to resist and insist on our freedom,” he said.
The Lima Group was created in 2018 by 14 member nations in the Americas and represented by their Foreign Ministers to find solutions to the critical food and medical crisis in Venezuela, and restore democracy in that country. Monday’s assembly will count with the participation of U.S Vice President Mike Pence.
Although the U.S is not an acting member of the Lima Group, it is one of 60 countries backing Guaidó as the legitimate President of Venezuela. The U.S delivered the majority of aid to Colombia through its Special Envoy Elliott Abrams.
When asked, during a press conference on Friday, what would happen if Maduro’s regime didn’t fall during the humanitarian aid operation, Abrams replied that the coalition will continue its humanitarian effort and “increase the pressure, until that day comes, when Venezuela joins the democratic communities in this hemisphere.”
While the international aid convoys were being attacked by Venezuela’s National Police and paramilitaries at the border, in Caracas, Maduro assured a crowd of supporters that he will not step down, nor be subject to any sort of intimidation by a foreign state, whether the United States or Colombia. With a #TrumpHandsOffVenezuela banner next to the stage from where he ranted and waved fists into the air, Maduro claimed the food on the trucks “was rotten” and the relief effort a strategy to invade his country, meanwhile the crowd shouted, “prison for the opposition,” and pledged loyalty to the regime.
For Maduro and allies Russia, China, Turkey and Bolivia, among others, the aid represents a coordinated “Trojan horse” to invade Venezuela in order to acquire oil reserves that have been squandered by state-run PDVSA, and has bankrupted the nation. On Saturday, while the aid convoys were still smoldering, Maduro closed all borders with Colombia and broke-off diplomatic ties.
A united coalition
Migración Colombia announced that the borders with Venezuela will be temporarily closed to assess the structural damage to bridges suffered during Saturday’s violent events, and will re-open on Tuesday, February 26, to attend to the needs of migrants.
With the announcement by Maduro that all Colombian diplomats must leave the country on Sunday, Duque responded that the breaking-off of diplomatic ties was a hollow act as “relations never existed.”
Presidents Sebastián Piñera of Chile and Mario Abdó Benitez of Paraguay accompanied the relief operation in Colombia and are staunch supporters of restoring democracy in Venezuela. This “diplomatic siege,” as Duque has repeatedly referred to the initiatives taken by the Lima Group, will be ratified on Monday, and as Gauidó has warned, “all options are on the table” regarding the end game of the dictatorship.