Prayers, holy water as Venezuelan Curacao aid shipment delayed

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Flag-waving Venezuelan opposition supporters rallied on February 23, 2019 in the port of Willemstad, Curacao, where red trucks carried aid intended for Venezuela

Flag-waving Venezuelan opposition supporters rallied on February 23, 2019 in the port of Willemstad, Curacao, where red trucks carried aid intended for Venezuela (AFP Photo/Luis ACOSTA )

Willemstad, Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles) (AFP) - Venezuelan opposition supporters rallied in Curacao's port Saturday, pushing for their own shipment to join in a dangerous aid effort for their country, but the vessel's captain declined to sail yet for security reasons.

While in Venezuela border clashes and military desertions raised tensions, on the sleepy Caribbean island of Curacao a handful of expatriates applied pressure on a separate front, waving flags and singing.

Standing near one of the red trucks carrying the containers of aid at the entrance to a cargo port, Venezuelan priest Julio Gonzalez, 33, blessed the cargo and sprinkled holy water on the excited crowd.

"We trust in God to open the way... and to destroy the enemy," he said, before leading a recitation of the Hail Mary and the Lord's Prayer. "With love, everything is possible."

But the ship's captain Carlos Quintavalle said later that for security reasons it would not sail for Venezuela until the government reverses its decision to close the maritime border with Curacao in the crisis.

"Let us hope that on Monday or tomorrow the borders will be opened and that we will be able to go safely to Venezuela and take the humanitarian aid," he told reporters at the port on the island just off Venezuela's coast.

The Curacao shipment of aid from private donors in Florida is part of a broader aid effort by the Venezuelan opposition.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has branded it a "show" and a smokescreen for a US invasion.

The effort has become a focus of the power struggle between Maduro and self-declared head of state Juan Guaido, whom Maduro calls a "clown".

- Aid on the 'Seven Seas' -

Maduro's opponents want to swing the momentum against him in the hope that the military will drop its support for him.

Clashes broke out as volunteers tried to pass aid via the Brazilian and Colombian borders. The Curacao consignment represents a third front in the aid drive.

Venezuelan volunteers rallied in the cathedral of Curacao's capital Willemstad on Friday night and again in the port on Saturday morning, the start of carnival weekend.

"The idea is to apply a bit of pressure and make them understand that this is humanitarian aid," Milagro Gonzalez, a 33-year-old Venezuelan resident in Curacao, said at Saturday's gathering.

"Politics aside, the idea is for this cargo to reach the people who need it."

About 50 countries have recognized Guaido, leader of the state legislature, as the acting president of Venezuela.

They accuse Maduro of stealing last year's election and blame his policies for dire shortages of food and medicine, as well as for hyperinflation.

Maduro blames US sanctions and financial speculation for Venezuela's economic woes.

He regularly accuses Venezuelans based in Florida and elsewhere abroad of plotting against him.

The Venezuelans want to load 50 tons (tonnes) of food and medicine onto the Seven Seas, a Curacao-based, Panama-flagged supply vessel with a Venezuelan captain.

They had intended it to meet up with a separate ship of aid which Guaido said sailed from Puerto Rico with 250 tons of aid.

Separately, the administrator of the US development agency USAID, Mark Green, tweeted last week that he had visited Curacao and discussed possible cooperation with the island to channel official US aid to Venezuela.

An autonomous state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Curacao hosts a US military "forward operating location" that provides support for anti-drug operations in the region.

The island's government stressed that the US forward base will play no part in any aid operations.