Venezuela crisis: Maduro closes border with Brazil amid escalating tension with US over foreign aid

Andrew Buncombe, Adam Forrest

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has closed the nation’s border with Brazil, amid an escalating standoff over allowing aid from the US to enter the country.

In a televised address from the nation’s largest military base, Mr Maduro said he was also considering shuttering the border with neighbouring Colombia, two days before the opposition has vowed to move aid from the US and other nations inside Venezuela.

“I don’t want to take any decision of this type but I am evaluating it, a total closure of the border with Colombia,” he said.

Some Venezuelans crossed over into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima to stock up on supplies shortly before the border was closed late Thursday night, according to Brazilian media.

Earlier on Thursday opposition leader Juan Guaido set off for the border with Colombia, where much of the US-supplied aid is warehoused.

Mr Guaido – who last month declared himself interim president and was recognised by the US, UK and other nations – has called on thousands of ordinary Venezuelans to assemble there on Saturday to help bring it across.

“Through this call for humanitarian aid, the population will benefit from the arrival of these goods to the Venezuelan border,” opposition politician Edgar Zambrano told the news agency.

The opposition leader appears to be using the weekend’s plan to bring in aid in a test of Mr Maduro’s will, according to some observers.

“The whole “humanitarian aid” operation is just a public relations stunt, and has been denounced by real humanitarian aid organizations including the International Red Cross and the United Nations,” Mark Weisbrot, a regional expert and co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank in Washington DC, told The Independent. “And we know that Trump himself has been looking for a war in Venezuela, for which this confrontation could serve as pretext.”

The Venezuelan president has said he is happy to accept aid shipments overseen by the UN, but believes the aid Mr Guaido seeks to bring in is part of an attempt to overthrow his government – something both Mr Guaido and Donald Trump have stated is their desire.

Long-time observers of Latin America have pointed out that the US has previous used aid shipments to smuggle in weapons to groups fighting the elected governments of several nations.

Meanwhile, UN agencies have been stepping up their work inside Venezuela while urging that the distribution of aid not become politicised. On Tuesday, Brazil, whose recently elected right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro is among those that recognise Mr Guaidó as Venezuela’s “legitimate leader”, said it would work to distribute the aid.

Brazil’s foreign ministry said in a statement the aid will be placed in Boa Vista and the border town of Pacaraima to be collected by what it described as “the government of acting President Juan Guaidó”.

“Brazil is thus joining this important international initiative to support the Guaidó government and the people of Venezuela,” the statement said.

A US envoy is heading to Colombia as part of a mission to send food and other emergency supplies into Venezuela. The State Department announced late Thursday that special representative Elliott Abrams will lead a US government delegation transporting humanitarian supplies.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Voice of America the UN was closely monitoring the situation on the border.

“The ideal scenario is that humanitarian aid is provided independent, independent of any political or other considerations, then the pure humanitarian and that is based on need and need alone,” said Mr Laerke.