Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guido told a huge rally of supporters on Tuesday that humanitarian aid would enter the country on Feb. 23, setting the stage for a showdown with President Nicolas Maduro who has refused to let supplies in.
Tens of thousands of protesters had taken to the streets to demand that Maduro allow aid into Venezuela, where food and medicine shortages are rife.
Guaido invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency three weeks ago, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham. Most Western countries, including the United States, have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, but Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.
An aid convoy supplied by the United States and Colombia arrived in the Colombian border town of Cucuta last week, where it is being held in warehouses. A Venezuelan opposition envoy has also said Brazil’s government would try to get humanitarian aid to the border.
Maduro has denounced the aid as a U.S.-orchestrated show to overthrow his socialist government and said it will not be let into the country. He has demanded instead that Washington lift economic sanctions that it has ratcheted up in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, Guaido said he was issuing a “direct order” to the armed forces to allow the aid in, though so far there are not clear signs the military would disobey Maduro. Guaido did not specify from where aid would enter, but said the opposition would go in a convoy to safeguard the supplies.
“Put yourselves on the side of the constitution, but also on the side of humanity,” Guaido said, in a message directed at the military. “Feb. 23 will be the day for the humanitarian aid to enter Venezuela, so from today we will have to get organized.”
Draped in Venezuelan flags, his supporters carried signs saying “No more dictatorship,” and “Leave the country, damned tyrant.” One bore a wooden cross to symbolize how Maduro was “crucifying the Venezuelans,” he said.
Maduro denies there is a humanitarian crisis and says Venezuelans are not beggars. He addressed a smaller rally of several thousand government supporters in Caracas on Tuesday.
“We all want peace for Venezuela and for the drums of war to go away,” he told a crowd that included many public employees, some holding “Defend the Country” banners.
“We have asked the U.N. and the world to promote the lifting of sanctions and to get rid of the blockade against Venezuela,” Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told a news conference on Tuesday, after meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Last week, the U.N. warned against politicizing aid in Venezuela after the United States accused Maduro of blocking the delivery of food and medicine.