VENEZUELAN protesters will flock to the border today in a desperate bid to help 200 tonnes of US aide make it into the country – amid fears the military could open fire during the standoff.
Supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido will join him and other critics of brutal socialist President Nicolas Maduro in the tense gathering at border bridges with neighbouring Colombia.
AFP or licensors Venezuelan opposition supporters gather at a protest event funded by billionaire Richard Branson yesterday
PRENSA PRESIDENCIAL It is unclear if socialist president Nicolas Maduro will order the military to use force to block the trucks entering Venezuela
It is so far unclear how the potentially violent situation will play out – with the military ordered to block entry to the trucks by any means.
But army leaders – who have so far remained mostly loyal to the controversial president – may defect to the opposition and let the aide in rather than open fire on the protesters.
Opposition leader David Smolansky said yesterday: “We think it’s going to enter.
“There will be so many people gathered at the border and in different cities around the country that it will be impossible to stop it.”
The critical moment for both Venezuela’s government and opposition comes exactly one month after Mr Guaido, a 35-year-old lawmaker declared himself interim president.
While he has earned popular backing and is being recognised by over 50 nations, he has not sealed the support of the military – whose loyalty is considered crucial to unseat Maduro.
International leaders including U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres are appealing for the sides to avoid violence.
The opposition is trying to get food and medical supplies across bridges that Venezuelan authorities ordered closed Friday night.
In previous waves of unrest, citizens have been tear-gassed and even killed during protests.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the military would “never have orders to fire on the civilian population” and likened the aid push to a media spectacle.
He told at the UN on Friday: “We can only hope that sanity and good sense prevail in Cucuta, in Colombia, and that it will remain as a big show, a bit party, and that they don’t try to open the doors to a military intervention.”
SUPPORT FROM BILLIONAIRE BRANSON
The aid push comes on the heels of a giant concert organised by billionaire Richard Branson aimed at pressuring Maduro to accept the aid.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans gathered in a field to hear pop stars like Juanes sing beneath a scorching sun.
Guaido made a surprise appearance toward the end to cheering supporters.
The opposition is planning to hold three simultaneous aid pushes on Saturday.
Aside from the events in Colombia, they also hope to get humanitarian assistance delivered by sea and through Venezuela’s remote border with Brazil.
On Friday, a member of an indigenous tribe was killed and 22 others injured in clashes with security forces who enforced Maduro’s orders to keep the aid out at a crossing with Brazil.
Analysts warn that there may be no clear victor and humanitarian groups have criticised the opposition as using the aid as a political weapon.
Fearful of what they might encounter, some Venezuelans in Cucuta said they planned to stay away.
But others said they’d face the risks and go.
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Oscar Herrera, 25, took an 18-hour bus ride to Colombia to buy his infant medicine for a skin irritation earlier this week.
He said: “For my son, I’d risk everything.”
Hernan Parcia, 32, a dad-of-three, said he planned to go with his entire family.
He added: “I’m pained by what’s happening to my country. They can count on me.”
British billionaire Richard Branson announces humanitarian aid concert at Venezuela border
AFP or licensors Thousands gathered over the border in Colombia at an event in support of aiding the Venezuelan people
AFP or licensors A woman who fell ill during the protest event is carried to safety
Getty – Contributor Richard Branson spoke at the event in Colombia yesterday
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