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Venezuela's Maduro vows to block 'fake' aid 'spectacle'

Digitaljournal 2019-02-09 02:40:12

Venezuela's Maduro vows to block 'fake' aid 'spectacle'

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro vowed Friday not to let in "fake" aid from the United States requested by opposition leader Juan Guaido that is being stockpiled at the border with Colombia.

"Venezuela won't allow the spectacle of fake humanitarian aid because we're no one's beggars," Maduro said at a press conference in Caracas.

He also hit out at European and Latin American ministers who called for a new presidential ballot.

Meeting in Uruguay's capital Montevideo on Thursday, the International Contact Group urged "free, transparent and credible presidential elections" in crisis-wracked Venezuela "as soon as possible" to find a peaceful solution to the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido.

Under Maduro's direction, Venezuela has descended into economic chaos marked by hyperinflation, recession and shortages of basic necessities, including food and medicine.

Guaido has claimed 300,000 people could die if Maduro doesn't allow the humanitarian aid to enter.

Under the guidance of President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has descended into economic crisis marked by hyperinflation, recession and shortages of basic necessities including food and medicine JUAN BARRETO, AFP

Several trucks carrying food and medicine arrived at a collection center in the Colombian border town of Cucuta on Thursday.

Venezuelan migrants gathered there to see if they could receive some aid.

However, on the other side of the Tienditas border bridge, Venezuelan troops loyal to Maduro had blocked the road, heightening tensions with Washington.

- Military 'dilemma' -

Aerial view of trucks loaded with humanitarian aid for Venezuela driving to the Tienditas Bridge on the border between Cucuta, Colombia and Tachira, Venezuela, on February 7, 2019 Edinson ESTUPINAN, AFP

Guaido, who has appealed to the military to back him, said the armed forces "have a dilemma: either they side with the people in need or with the dictatorship."

Bringing in aid is central to the National Assembly president's challenge to Maduro's authority, as are street protests, the next of which will take place on Wednesday.

The 35-year-old Guaido caused shockwaves in Venezuelan politics on January 23 when he declared himself acting president, a move quickly backed by the US and subsequently around 40 countries.

Maduro has the backing of China, Russia, Turkey and leftist regional allies Cuba and Bolivia.

The 56-year-old said Venezuela's humanitarian crisis has been "fabricated by Washington" to justify an "intervention" in the South American country.

He blamed shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions, which mostly target regime individuals as well as state oil company PDVSA.

"Liberate the money that has been blocked and sequestered," said Maduro, who has repeatedly accused the US of fomenting a coup.

"This is a macabre game: we squeeze them by the neck and make them ask for crumbs."

He said the aid offer was "a message of humiliation for the people."

Guaido's representative in Cucuta, Lester Toledo, said the provisions already delivered were the "first drops" and promised "a tsunami of humanitarian aid" would follow.

"We're going to open a humanitarian corridor and the doors to freedom," he told journalists.

Early Wednesday, a Venezuelan military boat carrying 100 tons (tonnes) of aid landed in Havana to help Cubans recovering from the wrath of a tornado.

- Time running out for Maduro -

Map showing the border between Colombia and Venezuela, with crossing points Nicolas RAMALLO, AFP

Guaido is trying to force Maduro from power, aiming to set up a transitional government and hold presidential elections.

He claims his legitimacy from the constitution, but Maduro -- labeled a dictator by the West and his Latin American neighbors -- insists his re-election last year was constitutional.

The US, EU and many Latin American countries branded it a fraud as prominent opposition leaders were unable to stand after being exiled, jailed or barred.

Consultants Eurasia Group said Thursday that time was running out for Maduro as his traditional allies Russia and China are "unlikely to lend (him) meaningful support," reinforcing its view that the socialist leader "will be unable to sustain his regime."

Turning his ire on the Contact Group, Maduro fumed: "You don't listen to the truth in Venezuela. You're deaf... They've taken extremist positions."

The Contact Group had urged Maduro to allow in aid and said it would send a mission to Venezuela to discuss how to "establish the necessary guarantees for a credible electoral process, as soon as possible."

Maduro, who last weekend rejected an EU ultimatum to organize snap presidential elections, said he would welcome the mission.

The Contact Group, which says it includes countries with a "neutral" perspective on the Venezuela crisis, chided Maduro over the deaths of 40 opposition protesters last month.

It also told the socialist leader to "restore full democracy, the rule of law, the separation of powers and respect for the constitutional mandate of the country's institutions, particularly the democratically elected National Assembly."

The opposition-controlled legislature has been powerless since 2016 after it was stripped of its powers by the Supreme Court, made up of regime loyalists.

On Friday, the Supreme Court asked the attorney general's office to investigate alleged "criminal" conduct by Guaido and the legislature over the "usurpation of functions" that correspond to Maduro.