February 22, 2019
By Carlos Suniaga and Nelson Bocanegra
KUMARAKAPAY, Venezuela/CUCUTA, Colombia (Reuters) – Venezuelan troops killed at least one person and wounded several others on Friday near the Brazilian border, witnesses said, the first bloodshed linked to opposition efforts to bring aid into the South American country against the wishes of embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
The killing came as fundraising concert for Venezuela – backed by British billionaire Richard Branson and featuring major Latin pop stars like Luis Fonsi and Maluma – kicked off in the Colombian frontier town of Cucuta, where the United States has been stockpiling aid to ship across the border this weekend.
With tensions running high after opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to declare an interim presidency, Maduro has denied there is a humanitarian crisis. He says opposition efforts to bring in aid area a U.S.-backed “cheap show” to undermine his government.
Maduro has declared Venezuela’s southern border with Brazil closed and threatened to do the same with the Colombian border ahead of a Saturday deadline by the opposition to bring in humanitarian assistance.
Some political analysts say Saturday’s showdown is less about solving Venezuela’s needs and more about testing the military’s loyalty towards Maduro, by daring it to turn the aid away.
With inflation running at more than 2 million percent a year and currency controls restricting imports of basic goods, many Venezuelans lack vital medicines and a growing share of the country’s roughly 30 million people is suffering from malnutrition.
Friday’s violence broke out as indigenous leaders in southern Venezuela said they had attempted to stop a military convoy heading toward the border with Brazil, believing the soldiers were attempting to block the entrance of foreign aid as per Maduro’s order.
The convoy entered the indigenous village of Kumarakapay anyway, opening fire to clear the way and killing a woman, Zoraida Rodriguez, according to community leaders Richard Fernandez and Ricardo Delgado.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
“The result of this crime: 12 injured and one dead,” Guaido said on Twitter.
“You must decide which side you are on in this definitive hour. To all the military: between today and tomorrow, you will define how you want to be remembered.”
Guaido has vowed the opposition will bring in foreign aid from neighboring countries on Saturday and called on security forces to disobey Maduro and let supplies into the country suffering food and medicine shortages.
Guaido has been recognized as legitimate interim president by dozens of nations over the past month including the United States, arguing that Maduro’s re-election was fraudulent.
(Reporting by Carlos Suniaga and William Urdaneta in Kumarakapay, Venezuela; Nelson Bocanegra and Steven Grattan in Cucuta, Colombia; Julia Symmes Cobb and Helen Murphy in Bogota; Brian Ellsworth, Vivian Sequera, Corina Pons and Sarah Marsh in Caracas; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Bill Trott)