The chaotic and confused situation on the border between Venezuela and Colombia erupted in more violence as troops loyal to President Nicolas Maduro clashed with protesters resulting in at least four dead and dozens injured.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido led hundreds of protesters in an effort to escort aid trucks through the cordon of soldiers, but they were turned back by tear gas. Eyewitnesses say the soldiers then set fire to several aid trucks filled with desperately needed food for the populace.
Guaido will meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence tomorrow and other regional leaders to discuss possible “multilateral action” against Venezuela.
Senator Marco Rubio said that “the actions of President Nicolás Maduro’s regime on Saturday had ‘opened the door to various potential multilateral actions not on the table just 24 hours ago.'”
Although Guaidó did not secure the mass defections he had hoped for, at least 60 border guards deserted their posts and fled into Colombia, as other members of security forces loyal to Maduro used teargas and rubber bullets to force back protesters and halt civilian convoys escorting aid supplies.
Three trucks of aid caught fire as they approached the first border checkpoints at the Santander and Simón Bolivar bridges connecting Venezuela to Colombia. It is not clear how those fires were started.There were injuries on both sides of the crossing, with Colombian authorities reporting at least 285 wounded.
In the south, opposition activists claimed aid had reached Venezuela, but although two trucks did leave Brazil they stopped just a few metres inside the border, a national guard checkpoint between them and any possible recipients.
Beyond the security forces was the town of Santa Elena de Uairén, which saw the worst of the violence, with both pro-government armed gangs and national guard members taking to the streets to try and disperse opposition supporters.
At least four people were killed and 18 injured by gunfire, according to campaign group Foro Penal, and the town’s hospital was overwhelmed by the influx of dead and injured.
Currently, the army still appears to be loyal to Maduro, although you have to wonder if threats of being shot are keeping the majority of them in line.
But Maduro still enjoys some support among the nation’s poorest and he has the international backing of Russia, China and Cuba. He has vowed not to leave voluntarily:
As violence raged along the borders, Maduro addressed a rally in the capital, insisting he was “stronger than ever” and calling volunteers trying to ship aid “traitors”.
He denounced the food and medical supplies as an American pretext to destabilise his government, and told the crowd he had broken off diplomatic relations with Colombia because the country was being used for “attacks against Venezuela”.
After his speech, as teargas billowed at the country’s borders, he danced with his wife onstage in a bizarre display of nonchalance.
Events are spiraling toward some kind of climax, which may include military action by regional actors. With Maduro on the ropes, it probably wouldn’t take much of a push to get the Venezuelan army to act and depose the tyrant.