Standoff over aid with Venezuelan military escalates

At least two people have died and 17 were injured Friday at the Brazil border, Maduro partially closes the Colombia border as well

At least two people have died and 17 were injured Friday near the Brazil-Venezuela border in a standoff between a local indigenous community and the Venezuelan military over deliveries of humanitarian aid, local authorities report. Yet, opposition-led volunteers are continuing their efforts to get the first delivery into Venezuela on Saturday, despite the army blocking them.

The clashes came as Maduro announced Thursday plans to close the vast, jungle border with Brazil a day after he also blocked air and sea travel between Venezuela and the nearby Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, where the first cargo of relief supplies arrived earlier that day. On Friday, Maduro also closed the Colombia border where the bulk of aid is being stockpiled and exiled leaders have been gathering ahead of a fundraising concert organised by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, in which several major Latin American pop artists will perform. On Twitter Vice President of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez announced the "total temporary closure" of the border with Colombia, "due to a series of illegal attempted threats by the government of Colombia against the peace and sovereignty of Venezuela."

"We're not beggars," Maduro said. "What the US empire is doing with its puppets is an internal provocation. They wanted to generate a great national commotion, but they didn't achieve it."

Saturday's aid showdown comes exactly a month after Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president in a mass rally, immediately drawing the support of the US and 50 other countries. But while he's managed to bring hope to Venezuelans crushed by years of recession, food shortages and hyperinflation, he's so far been unable to win over the military, which has shown little sign of abandoning Maduro.

In a move that might change the tide to win over the military, Hugo Chavez’s longtime spy chief, retired Maj. Gen. Hugo Carvajal, declared his loyalty to Guaido. Reading prepared remarks in a video on social media, Carvajal, who spent a decade running Chavez's military intelligence agency before stepping down in 2012, urged his former comrades to redeem themselves and abandon their support for Maduro.

"You carry on your shoulders the weight of an army that gave liberty to people in more than five countries," he said, referring to the Venezuelan-born Simon Bolivar's role as the father of South American independence from Spain.

"We can't allow an army, in the hands of a few generals subjugated to Cuban instructions, to become the biggest collaborator of a dictatorial government that has plagued people with misery," he then continued.

For now, however, the military continues to obey Maduro's orders even as Guaido tries to bring international attention to the country's hardships. Thus many more deaths and injuries are expected to be reported today after the clashes.

Amid rising tensions, US National Security Adviser John Bolton has canceled his trip to South Korea next week, even as preparations ramp up for a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, so he could focus on the Venezuela crisis. Bolton, who famously flashed reporters a yellow notepad with the scrawled words "5,000 troops to Colombia" during a briefing about Venezuela last month, won't be the only high-ranking US official focusing on the divided, oil-rich country. Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence is expected to travel to Colombia in an effort to pressure embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down. He plans to meet with the Lima Group, a regional bloc of nations, and deliver remarks to address the "tragic humanitarian and security crises unfolding in Venezuela and ongoing US efforts to deliver aid to the country.

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