Venezuela: Violent clashes break out as nation closes border with three countries amid escalating crisis

Zamira Rahim

Venezuelan soldiers fired tear gas at civilians near the country’s border with Colombia, amid growing tensions after a crowd tried to clear a barricade in an effort to access humanitarian aid, including food and medicine.

Protesters also stole a red city bus and set it on fire to express outrage over the thwarted aid deliveries.

Flames from the bus blaze caused nearby power lines to spark along the border.

The fresh burst of violence came as Nicolas Maduro‘s government closed Venezuela’s border bridges with Colombia on Friday, having also closed the nation’s borders with Brazil and the island of Curacao, other crucial points of entry for international aid.

The opposition had earlier called on masses of Venezuelans to help trucks carrying nearly 200 metric tons of aid into the country despite a government ban.

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Hundreds of people camped out near border bridges after Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition, vowed to resist the border closures by bringing the trucks into the country from Colombia.

Mr Guaido claimed the first shipment of humanitarian aid had crossed into Venezuela from Brazil, calling it a “great achievement”.

However, reports suggested two trucks were stuck at the Venezuelan border, contradicting claims by opposition leaders they had managed to break through a police blockade and enter the country.

An Associated Press journalist at the border said the trucks remain stationed in the arid expanse separating the Brazilian city of Pacaraima from the Venezuela city of Santa Elena de Uairen.

Mr Maduro has refused to accept the aid, which is largely donated by the US government.

He claims the assistance is part of a larger plot to remove him from power.

But residents in the border town of Urena, spurred on by the opposition, defied government orders on Saturday and began removing yellow metal barricades and barbed wire at the blocked Francisco de Paula Santander bridge.

The National Guard responded with tear gas, as soldiers in riot gear forced people to move away from the road to another border bridge.

Some of the civilians wore masks and hurled stones at the troops as they demanded the aid be allowed to pass through.

Later, three members of Venezuela‘s National Guard deserted their posts at another border crossing and requested assistance from Colombia.

One person was also killed and 22 others injured in violent clashes with security forces who kept aid out at another location on Friday, near Venezuela’s border with Brazil.

The potentially volatile moment for both Venezuela‘s government and opposition comes exactly one month after Mr Guaido, a 35-year-old politician, declared himself interim president based on a controversial reading of the constitution.

While the opposition leader has earned popular backing and recognition from more than 50 nations, he has not sealed the support of the military, whose loyalty to Mr Maduro is crucial.

Mr Guaido’s backers argue that if the military does allow the food and medical gear to pass, it will signify troops are now loyal to the opposition.

Some Venezuelans are avoiding the border due to the violence but others are prepared enter the region for supplies.

Hernan Parcia, 32, a father of three, said he planned to go to the border with his entire family.

And Oscar Herrera took an 18-hour bus ride to Colombia earlier this week to buy his infant medicine.

“For my son,” he said “I’d risk everything.”