Forces loyal to embattled President Nicolas Maduro reportedly moved two shipping containers and an oil tanker onto the three-lane Tienditas bridge. The crossing links Venezuela with the Colombian city of Cucuta, which is due to serve as a collection hub for international aid requested by opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaido. A convoy hauling US aid to the border is due to arrive at the border tomorrow morning.
But Venezuelan troops in armoured cars arrived to block the bridge this afternoon, Peruvian newspaper El Comercio reports.
As it stands, the aid vehicles will not be able to cross the bridge.
Maduro’s government has denied there is a humanitarian crisis, instead blaming the country’s economic problems on sanctions.
And the president himself has insisted he will not let Venezuela be humiliated by accepting international aid, telling troops yesterday “we are not beggars”.
Maduro also fears accepting assistance from overseas could eventually be used to justify a US-led invasion, according to El Comercio.
The decision to block the Tienditas bridge could set the stage for a showdown between the United States and Russia at the United Nations.
Washington, which has recognised opposition leader Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, could attempt to seek the approval of the United Nations Security Council to deliver aid without Maduro’s cooperation.
But Moscow, an ally of Maduro, would likely block such a move.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives.
“When we see the present stand-off it becomes even more clear that serious political negotiations between the parties are necessary to find a solution leading to lasting peace for the people of Venezuela.”
Meanwhile, the US announced it would consider lifting sanctions on senior Venezuelan military officers if they denounce Maduro and recognise Guaido as leader.
Control over the military is vital for Maduro if he is to remain in power and aside from one senior general, who recognised Guaido in a video and called on other members of the military to do the same, most of Venezuela’s top officers have not defected.
White House national security adviser John Bolton said in a tweet: “The US will consider sanctions off-ramps for any Venezuelan senior military officer that stands for democracy and recognizes the constitutional government of President Juan Guaido.
“If not, the international financial circle will be closed off completely.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.