Pressure on the Border Escalates: The Battle of Humanitarian Aid in Venezuela

Two dueling concerts complicate massive protests planned for Saturday Feb 23 in Cucuta, Colombia as tensions tighten over a possible forced entry of US aid into the stricken country.

La Prada, near the Simon Bolivar Bridge in Cucuta,Colombia

Cucuta, Colombia- The deadline set by the United States and self-declared president Juan Guiado to deliver humanitarian aid into Venezuela is Saturday Feb 23rd, when massive protests are being scheduled by both the Venezuelan opposition and the government of Maduro. For now, US aid waits in a warehouse in Cucuta near the Tienditas bridge. And one of the ideas being considered by the opposition is to send thousands of women in white across the border to carry the aid by hand into Venezuela, with the hopes that the Venezuelan military will not act violently against unarmed women.

To further complicate the situation, Richard Branson, somewhat eccentric British billionaire and founder of Virgin, announced a concert at the Tienditas bridge, where US aid waits, on Friday. “Not long ago, Venezuela was the richest country in South America and it is now confronting the worst humanitarian crisis in the western hemisphere as more than three million Venezuelans have been displaced from the region.” He said in a taped message 16th of February.

Branson promised to raise 100 million dollars for humanitarian aid in 60 days and has announced the support of numerous Latin American artists. The concert is being billed as “Venezuela Aid” and is set to feature artists such as Peter Gabriel and J Balvin.

Maduro is having his own concert as well, at the only other bridge in Cucuta

Monday, Feb 18th Juan Rodriguez, the minister of Communication and Tourism of Venezuela announced that the government of Maduro would also be holding a concert on the Venezuelan side of the border at the only other bridge into Cucuta, the Simon Bolivar bridge.

Mr. Rodriguez announced that the Venezuelan government is organizing a “mega concert” to take place during the 22nd and 23rd of February, coinciding with scheduled opposition protests. The concert is being billed as “Hands off Venezuela”.

The minister also announced the delivery to the border of 20 million dollars-worth of humanitarian aid in the form of ready-to-eat meals and basic medicines, some of which will also be delivered to Cucuta, Colombia. He stated that the government has received solicitations to perform from a multitude of Venezuelan artists, though a line-up has yet to be made public. He also said in his statement that Maduro decries the “Aggressions of invading Venezuela”.

International Aid Agencies don’t like the escalations

The Red Cross and the UN have both publicly criticized the opposition and US imposed deadline to deliver aid, with the Red Cross stating that humanitarian aid to starving Venezuelans must not be “politicized”.

Some of the international aid workers and activists I spoke with in Cucuta are worried that such confrontational tactics will be counter-productive and could even escalate tensions as they try to find ways of getting the aid into Venezuela without provoking or embarrassing Maduro.

“We have enough problems already. We’re staying out of it.” one representative currently working in Cucuta told me. He declined to allow his name to be used, citing a lack of authority to speak for his organization. “And now there’s going to be two concerts the night before the confrontation. To say that this is counter-productive to our efforts is..well that would be an understatement. We don’t need the circus.”

A shipping container the Red Cross uses as an examination room at the Simon Bolivar Bridge

Meanwhile Trump Demands an end to the Maduro Regime

In Miami Monday, Trump called Maduro a “Cuban Puppet” as he called for an end to not only the Maduro regime, but Socialism worldwide.

“The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere,” Trump said. “The days of socialism and communism are numbered, not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and in Cuba as well.”

He threatened yet again that “All options are on the table” as he has in the past and threatened Venezuelan Military officials if they don’t allow the aid to enter the country.

This bellicose rhetoric follows a number of other high-profile actions in the run-up to the planned forced entry of aid into Venezuela this Saturday.

Ivan Duque, president of Colombia visited the United States to speak with Trump about efforts to depose Nicolas Maduro Feb 13th. Duque stated after that meeting that “Obstruction of humanitarian aid is a crime against humanity.”

Marco Rubio arrived in Cucuta to supervise the arrival of US humanitarian aid Sunday. He addressed the Venezuelan Military directly, stating during a brief appearance that “Will you prevent the food and medicine from reaching your own people? Your own families, your neighbors? Because if you do, not only will God condemn you in the other life, but you will also be condemned by the law because that is an international crime, a crime against humanity, that is very clear and they must make the right choice because the moment to make a decision has arrived.”

All of this represents a series of drastic escalations in the tensions between the government of Maduro and the opposition in Venezuela. It would seem that not only has the aid been politicized, as aid organizations have warned against, it has been weaponized symbolically. And Saturday looks like it could develop into a situation in which aid may be forced into both countries across a very tense border.

logotake2.png