A Day of Chaos
A frantic day on the ground on the border of Venezuela
A Colombian Police officer on the Tienditas Bridge, on the Border with Venezuela
Photography: Joshua Collins
8:30 a.m: I started the day at the Tienditas Bridge in Cucuta, Colombia where the humanitarian aid waited. Colombian officials were only allowing press to enter and it was packed. Many of the reporters wore bullet-proof vests and worried expressions. The Colombian police on the bridge were all unarmed. One got the impression that the press was more prepared for a war than Colombian Officials.
10:00 a.m: We were treated to long stretches of boredom and intense heat as we waited between speeches from various functionaries. Information about how officials planned to transport the aid into Venezuela was impossible to obtain, but the loaded trucks were on prominent display.
I talked for a bit with Gabriela, a Venezuelan photographer working for the Bogota City Paper.
The Press corps approach the Venezuelan border
“I would be on the other side (of the Tienditas bridge) if I could. That’s where the action is going to be. But I have two kids. And anyway, with all the tear-gas bombs it’s hard to get good pictures.” she laughs. “Believe me, I’ve tried.”
Eventually the presidents arrived. Ivan Duque of Colombia and Juan Guiado both made short speeches before the aid departed. They were flanked by the president of Chile and various functionaries. All of this for the sake of the press.
A thousand or so Venezuelans waited near the gates of the bridge to board the trucks, an attempt to create a human shield for the humanitarian aid to enter. The trucks were quickly swarming with protestors waving flags and chanting “Yes We Can!” and “Liberty!”. The crowd cheered enthusiastically as they departed.
An aid truck departing, loaded with cheering Venezuelans
11:30 a.m: I encountered two correspondents from Caracas Chronicles, Gabriela Mesones and David Parra. They were emotional from the concert the day before and filled with hope. Gabriela spoke to me about crying and yelling with joy during the concert the night before. We were surrounded by thousands of joyful protesters waving Venezuelan flags. A woman approached me and asked if I was American.
“Thank you so much!” she kept repeating as she hugged me. “Today is a great day for Venezuela!”
1:30 p.m: Completely exhausted from the heat and the sun I took a lunch break in a mall, just to have a few minutes of air-conditioning. They were showing the news on a big-screen television. The people were clapping for a speech Juan Guiado made, promising that the humanitarian aid would continue. The news was reporting that the aid was being carried in on foot at some points and that more trucks were arriving momentarily.
Then they announced that two of the trucks carrying humanitarian aid had been incinerated trying to enter into Venezuela. The café was silent. One doesn’t encounter many Chavistas here in Cucuta. They exist, but they are vastly outnumbered by people that want to see an end to the Maduro regime.
2:30 p.m: I took a taxi to the Simon Bolivar Bridge. I heard there were massive protests there.
“You know that there are riots on the bridge, right?” the taxi driver asked me. “The roads are closed two kilometers away from the bridge. Here listen.” he turned on the radio. Apparently, on the Venezuelan side of the bridge, demonstrations had devolved into riots. There were injuries being reported.
“Ok.” he tells me. “To the bridge we go.”
3:00 p.m: I’ve visited the Simon Bolivar Bridge many times in my months here in Cucuta. But I had never seen it look like this. It was an apocalyptic scene, more resembling a movie than reality. Crossing was prohibited. There were heavily armed Colombian riot police forming a blockade about 30 meters from the official Venezuelan entry point. Someone had set fire to the flora on both sides of the bridge. And despite the closure to pedestrians, groups of youths, their heads wrapped in scarves or handkerchiefs were making sorties into the Venezuelan side, tossing smoke bombs back into the ranks of the Venezuelan Military. Whenever a group of them returned to the Colombian side, the crowd cheered with vigor.
The Simon Bolivar Bridge about 3:30 p.m
But even in the packed, somewhat violent and tear-gas flooded confines of the bridge, there were vendors selling water, sodas and cigarettes. Despite the fumes of the tear-gas it was almost as if it were a sporting event.
The protesters were frustrated that Colombian officials wouldn’t allow them to charge the Venezuelan barricades with the Humanitarian Aid. At one-point, thousands of people shouted angrily at the spokesperson for the Colombian government. She defiantly held her ground, shouting back through a megaphone.
“We are not going to take part in any actions that could result in people being hurt. The aid is not going to enter across this bridge.”
Behind her, the wilderness was in flames and tear-gas bombs launched by the Venezuelan Military exploded.
I heard a kid of maybe 14 or 15 years of age shouting at her to let him bring the aid in.
4:00 p.m: I decided to leave. I had no desire to stay in conditions like that after dark. While I’m leaving a group of Venezuelan girls stop me and ask me if I'm an American. They want me to take their picture.
“Thank you.” one of them told me. “Thank you for the support from America. The regime may not fall today, but it will fall.”
“Liberty!” shouted her friend