Maduro orders borders closed as tensions mount over aid and rival music concerts
Posted On July 11, 2020
Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, ordered the border with Brazil to be closed and said he was considering doing the same with Colombia as US aid stacked up on both frontiers on Thursday night.
Mr Maduro dismissed efforts to deliver basic food and medicine as a "provocation" as opposition groups were heading to the border to carry the aid packages through in defiance of the regime.
Juan Guaido, the opposition leader now recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate president by 52 countries, was headed to the frontier with Colombia in a motorcade on Thursday to personally oversee the aid delivery.
Political analysts say Saturday’s border showdown is less about solving Venezuela’s needs and more about testing the military’s loyalty towards Maduro and the socialist regime by daring it to turn the aid away.
On Wednesday, Maduro’s socialist administration said it had closed the country’s maritime border with the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, after Curacao’s government said it would help store aid destined for Venezuela.
Mr Guaido was due to arrive across the border from Cucuta, the Colombian town that has become a focal point for the standoff, with pallets of aid mounting up and a concert organised by Richard Branson due to take place on Friday.
Residents, who are already feeling the strain of hosting tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees, are concerned about the safety of the show, and its provocative location on the Tienditas bridge that connects the two hostile countries.
Furthermore, many told The Telegraph that the planned delivery of humanitarian aid on Saturday has made the already-tense city even more fraught.
Colombia expelled five Venezuelans on Wednesday from the Colombian border town of Cucuta for "carrying forward activities which attack citizen security and social order".
Johana, a 33-year-old archivist, said she was worried how Venezuela’s military would react to the show, which begins at 10am local time (3pm GMT) and runs until 5pm (10pm GMT).
“I think the location of the concert is really dangerous, because Maduro is capable of doing anything,” she said.
Brian, a 27-year-old employee of the Bavaria beer company, said he was looking forward to the show, but shared Johana’s concern about the venue.
Mr Guaido, the self-declared “interim president” of Venezuela, has insisted that the aid must be allowed to pass. Mr Maduro has ordered his troops not to let it through, and announced that Venezuela will instead deliver aid to Colombia.
The presidents of Colombia, Chile, Panama and Paraguay will be in Cucuta, to observe the efforts, largely carried out by thousands of volunteers, who in the two days leading up to Saturday’s showdown gathered outside military barracks, urging the soldiers to disobey Mr Maduro.
Sir Richard has said he hopes 250,000 people will attend the free gig, which features megastars such as multi-Grammy-winning Juanes, Venezuelan veteran Ricardo Montaner, Spanish singer-songwriter Alejandro Sanz and Mexican rockers Mana.
Venezuela – Concert locations
“Doing an event as big as this, with so many people, is quite risky, because we don’t know what the reaction will be from the other side of the border,” he said.
“I really think the concert is inconvenient, given the tensions at the moment. At the least, they shouldn’t do it on the bridge.”
Noelia, 33, an insurance consultant, said she was too frightened to attend, and worried about a response from Mr Maduro’s troops or Colombia’s own guerrilla force, the ELN, which backs Mr Maduro.
“I think it’s a good tool to show Maduro that the whole world is tired of him,” she said. “But I’m not going to go, because I don’t think it’s safe. Firstly, because of the number of people who are going. And secondly, because we don’t know what Mr Maduro will do in response.”
Mr Maduro has already announced that his government will hold a rival “Hands Off Venezuela” concert, staged 300 metres away on the other side of the bridge.
His artists are yet to be announced, and a Colombian radio station reported that musicians were being offered up to $7 million to perform during a three-day festival, running from Friday to Sunday. It said several had declined to perform.
And Pink Floyd’s co-founder Roger Waters, who has strongly opposed any intervention in Venezuela, attacked Sir Richard’s concert and said it was little more than a political stunt.
“It has nothing to do with humanitarian aid at all,” the 75-year old Waters said. “It has to do with Richard Branson having bought the US saying, ‘We have decided to take over Venezuela, for whatever our reasons may be.’”
Sir Richard denied that the show was political, and emphasised that the musicians were not being paid. The British billionaire, who has been following events in Venezuela closely from his Caribbean isle of Necker, 500 miles directly north of Caracas, said he felt he simply had to do something.
Support for Venezuela leadership
"Venezuela sadly has not become the utopia that the current administration of Venezuela or the past administration were hoping for, and that has resulted in a lot of people literally dying from lack of medical help", he said. "I think it will draw attention to the problem on a global basis."
He added that he hopes the event is “a joyous occasion”.
And some in Cucuta were certainly looking forward to the show.
The mayor of the city of 650,000, Cesar Omar Rojas, has declared today (FRI) to be a holiday, with state employees given the day off to attend and schools closed, to free up the roads for transport to the site.
“We’re going to send a message to the world that there should be no walls or barriers between two brotherly neighbours, which prevent reconciliation, or stop help from arriving,” said Luis Carlos Diaz, a 47-year-old customer service specialist.
“Through music we will show Maduro that the world does not agree with him. It will be a warning to all of those new regimes that are growing around the world, we will tell them that is it not ok to starve their people.”