Tension rises as Maduro blocks aid from entering Venezuela

Colombe de Grandmaison is studying for an MA in International Peace and Security. Her latest article provides a concise analysis of the escalating constitutional crisis in Venezuela and the broader implications this has for security in the broader Latin American Region.

On January 23rd, 2019, in a surprise move to defy President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido publicly proclaimed himself interim President of the country. On February 12th, he promised to a crowd of supporters in Caracas that humanitarian aid would enter Venezuela on February 23rd, exactly one month after he was sworn in.[1] Meanwhile, incumbent President Maduro has denied reports of a humanitarian crisis in his country, and instead denounces a “script” established by the West “to disfigure the Venezuela situation”[2] stating that Guaido is actually part of “a foreign agenda to steal power.”[3] Whilst Mr Guaido enjoys the support of a large part of the international community, he still lacks control over either the administration or the army. This raises questions around his ability to bring this promised aid into Venezuela.

After Maduro’s security forces started using shipping containers to close off Tienditas Bridge, Cucuta, on the Colombian border, the military also shut Venezuela’s border with Brazil on January 22nd until further notice, in order to block the humanitarian caravan. Tensions quickly rose after an indigenous community in southern Venezuela attempted to stop a military convoy heading toward the border with Brazil, as they believed it was attempting to block incoming aid, resulting in the two deaths and several injuries.[4]

Meanwhile, on that same day, a Venezuela Live Aid concert took place in Cucuta, on the Colombian side of the border, while Mr Maduro called for another concert on the Venezuelan side to take place at the same time. Although almost comical, this “battle of the bands”[5] is mostly a symbol of the ongoing conflict over the Venezuelan government’s ability to provide for its people.

As Guaido’s move to assume the interim presidency and international support has reinforced Venezuela’s opposition, this week’s events can also be seen as a test of the military’s loyalty to Maduro. On January 23rd, opposition supporters indeed marched to a military airport in Caracas to ask soldiers to defect and let the aid through. Approximately 156 soldiers have reportedly defected since the border protests turned violent on January 23rd,[6] a symbol of the “breakdown of Maduro’s regime” according to Cliver Alcalá, a retired general who has joined the opposition.[7] Later that day, Mr Guaido guaranteed amnesty to members of the military and security forces who would defect.[8]

Although the opposition failed to send the aid to Venezuela, the events of last week-end have drastically increased the pressure on Maduro, and reasserted Guaido’s popularity, as well as the support of the international community for his agenda. Guaido indeed recently met with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, and he seems to be preparing minds for an eventual military intervention in Venezuela, which the US government is not ruling out either. As President Trump declared that “all options are on the table,”[9] are we about to witness a military intervention in Venezuela to oust Maduro? While many Venzuelans are supportive of this option, this creates the risk of further divisions within the international community. Many also fear that “it would raise questions about the legitimacy of the new Venezuelan authorities [and] would set an awful precedent for the region.”[10] The threat of a US military intervention could also end up reinforcing Maduro’s stance, as the Venezuelan President frequently uses it to rally his supporters in a similar move to former President Hugo Chavez.

The Venezuelan crisis is therefore far from being over, and the coming weeks could be of crucial importance for the country’s future, as well as for broader regional stability.

[1] http://www.tellerreport.com/news/–juan-guaido-promises-the-arrival-of-aid-to-venezuela-.SJZG_l_brE.html

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-47211509?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cg41ylwvwgxt/venezuela&link_location=live-reporting-story

[3] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-12/venezuelan-protesters-demand-that-regime-let-in-guaido-s-aid

[4] https://globalnews.ca/news/4991303/venezuelan-soldiers-fire-indigenous-people-aid/

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3SCmsGqYVE

[6] https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2019/02/24/au-venezuela-la-pression-internationale-s-accroit-sur-nicolas-maduro_5427691_3210.html

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2019/feb/23/venezuela-brazil-border-aid-live-news-latest-updates

[8] https://twitter.com/Marianitareyes/status/1099333072905035779

[9] https://globalnews.ca/news/4929952/us-military-threat-donald-trump-venezuela-help-maduro/

[10] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-47354754?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cg41ylwvwgxt/venezuela&link_location=live-reporting-story

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