Curacao blocks Venezuela aid ship cargo, citing security

Workers load food and medical aid for Venezuela on the Caribbean island of Curacao
Workers load food and medical aid for Venezuela on the Caribbean island of Curacao  

Willemstad, Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles) (AFP) - Curacao authorities Friday blocked Venezuelan opposition supporters from loading aid donations onto a ship to sail to their country, the vessel's captain said, with the island's government citing security concerns.

The Venezuelans have flown containers to Curacao from private donors in the United States -- part of a broader aid effort by Venezuela's self-declared leader Juan Guaido to put pressure on President Nicolas Maduro.

The organizers tried on Friday to load the aid onto the Seven Seas supply ship, moored in the port of the Caribbean island 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Venezuela's coast.

"The authorities here blocked the entrance of the containers with the humanitarian aid for Venezuela," Seven Seas captain Carlos Quintavalle told AFP at the port.

Curacao has become one of the focal points of a volatile standoff between Guaido and Maduro.

The socialist president has branded the aid drive a sham and accused the United States of plotting to invade his country.

Guaido has vowed to bring in aid via Brazil, Colombia and Curacao, in defiance of Maduro and the military that backs him.

Rights campaigners said Venezuelan soldiers shot dead two indigenous people and wounded 15 other who tried to stop them sealing an unofficial crossing on the Brazilian border on Friday.

- Venezuelan volunteers defiant -

Meanwhile, the use of Curacao as a sea transit point raised fears of a maritime confrontation if an aid boat approaches Venezuelan waters.

Curacao government communications officer Corinne Leysner told AFP the island's parliament had agreed to act as a hub for aid "but that goods cannot leave for Venezuela until there is a safe environment to receive them."

She said the government could not permit the boat to leave with the shipment for security reasons as Maduro's government has ordered the closure of Venezuela's sea and air frontiers with Curacao.

"It is a safety issue. Of course we want to help the people of Venezuela but we are not going to be choosing fights," Leysner said.

The Curacao government said earlier in a statement that "the shipments from Curacao will only take place when the authorities in Venezuela agree."

Hundreds of Venezuelan volunteers based in Curacao rallied later Friday at the cathedral in the island's capital Willemstad.

Lined up in pews, they swore an oath to God and the Virgin Mary to press ahead with efforts to load the ship.

"We have faith that the frontier is still open," said one of the Venezuelan volunteers, Glen Essen.

"The ex-government of Venezuela no longer exists. With the way Guaido and his new government are handling things - that is how this is going to be achieved."


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