The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The U.S. says Maduro is blocking aid to starving people. The Venezuelan says his people aren’t beggars.

A fuel tanker, cargo trailers and makeshift fencing block the Tienditas International Bridge to prevent humanitarian aid from entering Venezuela. (AP) (AP)

The Tienditas International Bridge, close to the border between Colombia and Venezuela, is at a standstill this week.

It is divided into three parts, and the Venezuelan military has blocked all of them: two with shipping containers and one with a tanker, as well as fencing. The striking scene illustrates the dramatic standoff between Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó.

Guaidó insists that humanitarian aid is desperately needed in Venezuela and that it must be allowed in. Maduro, with the help of the military, is refusing to budge.

Tensions escalate over delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela

What’s at stake is $60 million worth of humanitarian aid.

Venezuela is submerged in a humanitarian and political crisis. Millions of people have fled the country in recent years after hyperinflation made the prices of staple goods soar. Those who are left are dealing with dangerous shortages of medicine, food and other necessities.

Viviana Colmenares, a mother of six, says she is desperate for international aid to reach her. (Video: Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post, Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

In January, Guaidó declared himself interim president, launching Venezuela into a new phase of political turmoil as the United States and other countries threw their support behind him.

Now, Guaidó and the opposition say the humanitarian assistance inside trucks stuck in Colombia will be lifesaving. Maduro has refused the aid, saying that he will not allow Venezuela to become a country of “beggars.”

As The Washington Post reported this week, Maduro’s government has published propaganda, claiming that accepting assistance from the United States would endanger Venezuelans. “One video released by a pro-government site suggested that lust-filled foreign ‘peacekeepers’ were on their way to rape their way through Venezuela,” The Post reported.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro refused U.S.-backed humanitarian aid and said Venezuelans are not “beggars.” (Video: Reuters)

In Washington, U.S. officials have insisted that Maduro needs to stand down and allow the aid over the border.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Wednesday that the “Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE.”

The opposition in Venezuela has presented the question of whether aid will be delivered as an opportunity for the military to defy Maduro. In a video message on Thursday, Guaidó said soldiers “will have an important decision to make.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has reiterated those calls, tweeting that the fate of military leaders in Venezuela will depend on what they choose to do about the aid.

Rubio tweeted images of the blocked road and said that “military leaders who cooperate with this sadistic tactic will be as guilty of them as Maduro."

National security adviser John Bolton retweeted Pompeo’s images of the bridge, saying that “Maduro and his cronies live lavishly in Europe and enrich their Cuban patrons while plundering Venezuela’s wealth. Meanwhile they are physically blocking the Venezuelan people, including the military rank and file, from receiving humanitarian assistance.”

Bolton also urged senior Venezuelan military leaders to recognize Guaidó as interim president, saying the United States “will consider sanctions off-ramps for any Venezuelan senior military officer that stands for democracy.”

“If not, the international financial circle will be closed off completely,” he warned. “Make the right choice!”

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