Trucks carrying humanitarian aid for crisis-stricken Venezuela arrived in the Colombian border city of Cucuta on Thursday as diplomatically-isolated President Nicolas Maduro appeared set to block its entry amid an escalating political crisis.
The arrival of the aid convoy, which includes supplies provided by the United States, has increased the pressure on Maduro hours after a European Union-backed group called for dialogue and elections and warned against interventionism.
Maduro has rejected the aid convoy as a “political show” and vowed to remain in office despite dozens of nations around the world disavowing his leadership and recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s rightful head of state.
Escorted by police motorcycles, the trucks pulled into Cucuta, where Venezuelans were waiting to see whether Maduro’s government would clear the border road he has blocked and allow the humanitarian shipments to pass.
The crowd waved signs denouncing Maduro as a “cancer” and celebrated the arrival of the convoy. Across the border on the Venezuelan side, a group of around 60 protesters demanded that the aid be let through.
Maduro has overseen an economic collapse that has left millions struggling to eat and fueled an unprecedented migration crisis in the region. An estimated 3 million Venezuelans have left the oil-rich country since 2015, some 800,000 of whom have ended up in Colombia.
But Maduro showed little sign of relenting on aid, as a bridge linking Colombia and Venezuela remained blocked with a cistern and two shipping containers.
“The so-called ‘humanitarian aid’ operation is a show, a cheap show, a bad show,” Maduro said in interview with Mexican newspaper La Jornada published on Thursday. “You can be sure that it won’t disturb Venezuela.”
On Thursday, he appeared in an event at the presidential palace as part of a campaign by government supporters demanding an end to U.S. aggression against Venezuela.
Elliott Abrams, Washington’s special envoy on Venezuela, said the aid effort was being coordinated with Guaido’s team but that the aid would not be forced into Venezuela.
“Let it in, that’s what we’re asking, let it in,” Abrams told reporters at a State Department briefing, calling on members of Venezuela’s armed forces to persuade Maduro to step down or to disobey his orders. He said the supplies would be delivered to Venezuelans when it was “logistically safe” to do so.
Washington last week implemented crippling sanctions on Venezuelan state-owned oil firm PDVSA, which are expected to exacerbate the hyperinflationary economic crisis.