Opinion: The United States is pushing the envelope against the authoritarian regime of Nicholas Maduro in Venezuela. No one is arguing, except Maduro that the tons of medical supplies are urgently needed. The people of Venezuela are in dire need of food, medicine and an end to the hyper-inflation devastating the once prosperous nation’s economy. Over three million Venezuelans have fled the country and are moving across the border into Colombia.
But there is another side to the U.S. aid being shipped into Colombia, which is why many of the international aid agencies are wanting nothing to do with this. By sending the aid to neighboring Colombia, the United States has upped the ante to encourage military members, especially the junior to mid-level officers to cease their allegiance to Maduro. The aim is to foment regime change by backing the claims of the “interim President” Juan Guaidó who has called for a “humanitarian avalanche” with “caravans” to go to the Colombian borders to get the aid next Saturday.
The hope is that once the supplies, which the U.S. is shipping to the city of Cúcuta, on the border with Venezuela, reaches the bridge between the two countries, military leaders will defy Maduro and allow the aid to cross.
However, the U.N. and other aid agencies are balking at getting involved. “Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or any other objectives,” Stéphane Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman, said last week. “The needs of the people should lead in terms of when and how humanitarian assistance is used.”
Right now, the border bridge on the Venezuelan side is blocked by a tanker truck and shipping containers. And Maduro is painting himself into a corner. He claims that there is no humanitarian crisis, that the United States is manufacturing a false claim to incite a military invasion.
Calling this false flies in the face of the facts. When three million of your countrymen flee and food stores are empty, hospitals are in dire need of medicine and your only supporters to your claim as President are those known “freedom loving democracies” as Russia, China, Cuba et al, it rings increasingly hollow.
Maduro’s Vice President, Delcy Rodriguez got some advice that rivals that of Baghdad Bob when he alleged that the US aid was contaminated with carcinogens “to poison our population” and described it as a “biological weapon”, as reported by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
The ante is further being raised by the presence of Senator Marco Rubio from Florida who was in Colombia on Sunday. “There comes a time in many people’s lives when they have to make a decision that will define them forever,” Rubio said. “That time has come for the Venezuelan soldiers.” Rubio called Maduro’s rule “a criminal regime willing to starve and kill its own people.”
Also, Richard Branson, the British billionaire, and philanthropist is organizing a benefit concert in Cúcuta this coming Friday. Branson said he hopes to raise $100 million for humanitarian aid.
Guaidó is calling for thousands of supporters dressed in white to march on the border to confront the border guards and allow the aid to pass. Colombians in Cúcuta are uneasy about the entire scene being played out in their midst. It is a city of 750,000 that has been inundated by Venezuelan refugees.
Other humanitarian aid is slated to be coming from the Brazilian border and from the neighboring island of Curaçao.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is continuing to push the Venezuelan military to decide, Elliott Abrams, the U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, said earlier this month at a press brief, “Members of the army are Venezuelan citizens. … Our hope is that they will be able to persuade Maduro, or they will simply disobey orders to continue the starvation of the people of Venezuela.”
Kevin Whittaker, the US Ambassador to Colombia, said last week that Maduro “needs to leave so his people’s needs can be attended to, so the Venezuelan economy can be put back on its feet, and so that Venezuela can once again be a normal country.”
Maduro is digging in his heels and last week denied entry to five members of the European Parliament who flew to Caracs to meet with Guaidó at his invitation. They were barred from entry into Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar International Airport and subsequently deported.
This next week will be very interesting to watch. All eyes now are on the Venezuelan military. On one hand, they’ve been very loyal to the Maduro’s regime. But the rank and file members have family members who are starving. They know that someday there will be a reckoning.