On Tuesday, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó launched a military uprising against socialist President Nicolás Maduro. Diego Traverso, director of international disaster relief at Operation Blessing, spoke with PJ Media and sent photos of the Venezuelan ex-pats on the Colombian border.
“I’m right here on the border,” Traverso said. “Every day is a mess right here. Thousands of people crossing in and out, trying to get supplies from Colombia to feed their families in Venezuela.”
Yet on Tuesday, the Colombian military closed the border into Venezuela. Ex-pats are gathering to try to cross back into Venezuela to join Guaidó and the fight against Maduro.
Traverso said he saw “200-300 Venezuelan soldiers. They defected and now they are getting together at the border, wearing the blue bracelet on their arm, trying to organize so they can enter back into Venezuela and fight the regime of Maduro.”
In addition to the soldiers, Traverso said he saw “thousands of civilians waiting for the call, trying to organize themselves, watching the news on their phones.”
He noted that commandos are wearing a blue hat and blue bracelets, mimicking the soldiers fighting for Guaidó in Caracas, the capital. “Blue represents freedom, the sky on the Venezuelan flag,” Traverso said.
“Either today or by this time tomorrow morning, they are saying, ‘We will have a new president or we’ll have a martyr.’ They’re very excited to go back home and fight for the country and for the democracy,” the missionary added.
“There’s a lot of anger, saying, ‘This is the time! We need to have all of us go back and fight.’ They’ve been waiting for this day for so long,” Traverso recalled. He said they hope today is the day. “This is the one that they can take it back, their democracy and their country.”
“It’s very complex to track what is going on. This large group is getting larger, I feel. Young guys wearing these blue bracelets on their right arm, talking and trying to see how they can enter back into Venezuela and fight,” he added.
Traverso is leading Operation Blessing efforts to meet the needs of Venezuelan ex-pats in Colombia.
“I have a response center right here, across the border. Right now we have a medical brigade attending 300 patients,” he told PJ Media. “Just this morning, 20 Venezuelan defectors ran to the warehouse that we have and asked for help that they have been persecuted.”
He noted that people cross the border needing food, water, medical care, and hope.
“We have a team of counselors, five people, giving counseling to the people,” Traverso added. He noted that there is “a lot of trauma among the families, a lot of spiritual needs. Some of them came because they are starving. We offer, ‘Do you want us to pray for you?'”
The missionary said his five-person counseling team has a “waiting list of 285 people.”
While Traverso is meeting physical and spiritual needs on the border of Venezuela, he insisted that Christian churches across the world need to be equipping the churches in Venezuela and Colombia on the ground, to make sure these needs can be met “long term.”
“This is not a natural disaster. This is like a reconstruction of a whole country,” the missionary said.
Traverso predicted that when his Operation Blessing team finally gets to enter Venezuela, they will experience a tour of horrors. He seems to expect a horrific experience not dissimilar to the experiences of American GIs liberating concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
“Once we can enter into Venezuela, we will be shocked seeing the horrifics of what is going on inside,” the missionary said. He noted that “all these people leaving Venezuela … these are the one that have the energy and the strength and the help to walk out. I can’t imagine those who are stuck in their homes or at the hospitals.”
While millions have fled Venezuela under Maduro’s regime, Traverso insisted that these refugees are not trying to resettle elsewhere.
“Venezuelans are not trying to get to the U.S. They just want to get back to their country. They love their country. This is totally different from Honduras,” the missionary explained. “They are thirsty, they don’t have medicine. They just cross to Colombia to get some help.”
“They just want to survive for now and try to get back to their country,” he said.
Traverso said Maduro’s oppression is “demonic” to some degree.
“Any dictator is very oppressive and there is something very demonic in that for sure. Maduro is not taking care of Venezuela as he said he is,” the missionary noted.
“He said that everything is okay, there is no need for medicine or food — and we see that as a lie. We see here thousands of people starving to death,” Traverso said.
“If a president calls himself a president and says his country is okay, I see him as a liar. I see every day people suffering here, and that’s the truth. My eyes are seeing and ministering to the needs of the people here, the Venezuelan people, in such a large quantity. It’s not an isolated case. This is thousands and thousands of them daily,” the missionary added.
Operation Blessing is an international Christian charity that provides humanitarian services such as strategic disaster relief, medical aid, hunger relief, clean water, and community development. It has helped people in more than 90 countries and in every U.S. state. Readers can support Operation Blessing online here.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.