CARACAS, Venezuela — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted Nicolás Maduro Wednesday, accusing the Venezuelan president of blocking the path of humanitarian aid into the impoverished country.
The United States, which has called for Maduro’s ouster and recognized National Assembly head Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, has been coordinating with other countries in the region to deliver food and other provisions to Venezuela for the benefit of the people. But on Wednesday, ahead of anticipated aid shipments, a bridge that would have been an entry point into Venezuela from Colombia was blocked by a tanker truck and two shipping containers placed horizontally across its lanes.
“The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid,” Pompeo tweeted. “The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but #Venezuela’s military under Maduro’s orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE.”
National security adviser John Bolton also tweeted about Venezuela on Wednesday, saying senior officers with the Venezuelan military — an institution that has been vital to Maduro’s grip on power — could be shielded from financial penalties if they abandon Maduro and recognize “the constitutional government of President Juan Guaidó. If not, the international financial circle will be closed off completely.”
The United States and dozens of other countries have refused to recognize Maduro’s presidency because of what was roundly criticized as a fraudulent election last year. Instead, they have backed Guaidó, a relative novice of a politician who has nonetheless rallied tens of thousands of Venezuelans in street protests against Maduro. The Trump administration has also dealt serious financial blows to the government by freezing overseas bank accounts and imposing sanctions on the state-owned oil company, cutting off the most significant revenue flow for that country. Russia, Cuba and China have continued to stand with Maduro.
Stuck in the middle of the geopolitical drama are the people of Venezuela — and the humanitarian aid.
While eager to see Venezuelans receive much-needed help, relief agencies and nongovernmental organizations worry that aid is being politicized and could become a pawn in this and future political brawls.
“Humanitarian action has to be independent of politics, military and other objectives,” Stéphane Dujarric, a United Nations spokesman, told journalists in New York.
Mario Villarroel, president of the Red Cross in Venezuela, insisted that his organization would not take sides. “When this material is given to us, we go under the criteria of neutrality, impartiality, independence,” he said, referring to humanitarian supplies.
The latest friction appears to have started over the weekend, when Venezuelan military personnel were seen roaming cities along the Colombia-Venezuela border, according to opposition lawmaker Franklyn Duarte. On Tuesday, he said, Venezuelan troops began blocking the Tienditas international bridge, which connects Venezuela and Colombia.
He said it was ironic that rank-and-file members of military — many of whom suffer from the food shortages and hyperinflation ravaging the oil-rich nation — were being called on to block the path of aid into the country.
“We reiterate the call to the national armed forces because we know that those soldiers are in need of food and medicine, too,” he said. “There are many in the military that don’t agree anymore with attacking the people.”