Aid Trucks Arrive as Maduro's Forces Dig In at Border Bridge


(Bloomberg) -- The first shipments of U.S. humanitarian aid for Venezuela arrived at the country's western border Thursday, setting the stage for a clash with the government of President Nicolas Maduro, who has pledged to block the supplies.

Two trucks arrived in the Colombian border town of Cucuta, and took the supplies to a warehouse next to an unused bridge that connects the countries. More deliveries are expected soon, though the scale of the need is immense. The supplies will be sent into Venezuela next week, opposition lawmaker Gaby Arellano said in a phone interview.

Venezuela's security forces used freight containers and a tanker trailer to cut off the span, and are patrolling the dry riverbed nearby.

Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan National Assembly leader recognized as the country's rightful leader by more than 30 governments, is using the aid to pressure Maduro's authoritarian regime and demonstrate his ability to help the masses. But Maduro has said the effort is a pretext for invasion, and there's no sign that his armed forces will let the shipments through.

Under Maduro's failed socialist policies, Venezuela has sunk into a humanitarian crisis, and hunger is common in the once-wealthy petrostate. Children beg for scraps and adults pick through garbage hoping to feed their families.

U.S. sanctions on the oil industry, the government's only real source of hard currency, threaten further suffering. Those regulations, which were rolled out last week, are part of a two-pronged approach by Guaido and his U.S. backers -- strip Maduro of cash to buy even the small amounts of food he's been handing out to Venezuelans, and then ride to the rescue with critical supplies of their own.

The U.S., Canada and European Union have pledged $100 million in aid at Guaido's behest. That represents only about two weeks of food and medical imports, said Francisco Rodriguez, chief economist at Torino Economics in New York.

Guaido has said supplies will come through Colombia, Brazil and a Caribbean island, but the initial flash point is at the Cucuta bridge. The opposition will find a way to bring aid in, roadblocks or not, said Congresswoman Manuela Bolivar, a member of Guaido's Popular Will party who is helping coordinate the plan.

"Venezuela is not an island. There are trails, and thousands of kilometers of territory that the aid could enter through, and we're also looking at maritime options," she said in an interview. "You have to generate pressure."

Humanitarian agencies have been wary, because they say relief should be without any agenda. United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday that help should arrive without strings.

"When we see the present standoff, it becomes even more clear that serious political negotiations between the parties are necessary," he said. "Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives."

Silent Span

On Thursday morning, hundreds of Venezuelan families flowed over Cucuta's bridges across the Tachira River.

Some dragged empty suitcases, planning to stock up on staples such as rice and chicken in Cucuta's supermarkets. Others were leaving Venezuela for good. At the end of the Simon Bolivar Bridge, some get straight onto buses to make the 900-mile trip to Ecuador. Street hawkers offer packets of ibuprofen, acetaminophen and generic Viagra, all difficult to obtain back home.

It isn't clear how aid deliveries will cross the border in the other direction. While Cucuta has two bridges open to foot traffic, the now-blocked Las Tienditas highway bridge is empty: By the time it was finished, relations between Colombia and Venezuela had deteriorated so much that it isn't used. The aid shipments seem unlikely to inaugurate traffic.

The Red Cross's Venezuela chapter said this week it is willing to distribute aid but wouldn't bring food and medicine into the country in defiance of Maduro. Mario Villarroel, the organization's president, spoke to reporters in Caracas about the group's "fundamental principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence."

Cucuta has been swamped by Venezuelan migrants, but Colombia's National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement that the aid wouldn't be distributed there.

Meanwhile, time is of the essence. As the U.S. oil sanctions imposed Jan. 28 start to bite, the country will face grave difficulties importing food and the gasoline with which to distribute it, Torino's Rodriguez said.

Venezuela faces "a very serious risk of famine in the near term," he said.

--With assistance from Alex Vasquez, Fabiola Zerpa, Ezra Fieser and Oscar Medina.

To contact the reporters on this story: Matthew Bristow in Bogota at;Andrew Rosati in Caracas at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Papadopoulos at, Stephen Merelman, Robert Jameson

For more articles like this, please visit us at

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.


More Related News

Russia's Gazprombank freezes accounts of Venezuela's PDVSA: source

While many foreign firms have been cutting their exposure to PDVSA since the sanctions were imposed, the fact that a lender closely aligned with the Russian state is following suit is significant because the Kremlin has been among Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's staunchest supporters. "PDVSA

Thousands of Venezuela volunteers begin preparing US aid entry
Thousands of Venezuela volunteers begin preparing US aid entry

Thousands of volunteers in Venezuela will begin mobilizing on Sunday to bring American aid into their crisis-hit country despite a blockade by President Nicolas Maduro who claims the assistance could be cover for a US invasion. Once-wealthy Venezuela is gripped by a power struggle between socialist leader Maduro and Juan Guaido, the head of the National Assembly who proclaimed himself interim president last month and now has the backing of more than 50 countries.

US military planes land near Venezuela border with aid
US military planes land near Venezuela border with aid
  • World
  • 2019-02-16 22:08:58Z

CUCUTA, Colombia (AP) - The U.S. military airlifted tons of humanitarian aid to a Colombian town on the Venezuelan border Saturday as part of an effort meant to undermine socialist President Nicolas Maduro and back his rival for the leadership of the South American nation.

U.S. tells European Union to recognize Guaido as Venezuela president
U.S. tells European Union to recognize Guaido as Venezuela president
  • World
  • 2019-02-16 11:35:46Z

The European Union must recognize Venezuelan congress leader Juan Guaido as the president of the South American country, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday, pressing not just individual European governments but the bloc as a whole. In a speech at the Munich Security Conference, Pence said Guaido, who has declared himself interim leader and has won U.S. and international support to replace Nicolas Maduro, deserved that "the rest of the world" recognize him, and called Maduro a dictator who must step down.

Maduro blasts US for
Maduro blasts US for 'stealing' billions and offering 'crumbs'

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro hit out at the United States on Friday for "stealing" billions of dollars and offering "crumbs" in return as humanitarian aid. Tons of US aid is piling up in Colombia close to the border with Venezuela as opposition leader Juan Guaido has vowed to defy Maduro's efforts to block the supplies from entering the country. "It's a booby trap, they're putting on a show with rotten and contaminated food," said Maduro, speaking at an event in the southeastern town of Ciudad Bolivar.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: Europe

Hit "Like"
Don't miss any important news
Thanks, you don't need to show me this anymore.