Showdown at Venezuela's borders

Juan Guaido and the Heads of State of Chile, Colombia and Paraguay at the Live Aid Concert for Venezuela, Cucuta, February 22.
Juan Guaido and the Heads of State of Chile, Colombia and Paraguay at the Live Aid Concert for Venezuela, Cucuta, February 22. LUIS ROBAYO / AFP

The death of two Venezuelans under the bullets of the military had just been rumored that Nicolas Maduro posted by Tweet, Friday, February 22, his absolute support for the armed forces, "Guarantee of peace". "Maximum morale, maximum cohesion, maximum action, we will win! " wrote the heir and successor of Hugo Chavez. Twenty-four hours before the arrival at the Brazilian and Colombian borders trucks loaded with food and drugs from the United States, the humanitarian operation supposed to bend the military support of the Venezuelan president and pave the way for his opponent, Juan Guaido , made fear a dangerous escalation.

The bullets fired by the army in Kumurakapay, 70 kilometers from the Brazilian border, targeted Indians from the Pemon community determined to force the passage of aid despite the barrage of the military. "Or you capture and deliver those responsible for the repression and murder of our brothers, or you will be responsible", on Twitter, Juan Guaido, president of the National Assembly, self-proclaimed interim head of state and recognized by some 20 European states, including France.

Anthem of Exile

Fearing an increase in violence, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro called a crisis unit in the evening. Without renouncing the operation, Brazil warns that if the border remained closed on Saturday, the trucks would turn back, without forcing the passage. Nicolas Maduro "Think he will be invaded by the United States, he wants to give the public the impression that he is threatened"the Brazilian vice-president, General Hamilton Mourao, had been put into perspective earlier.

In the small Colombian town of Cucuta, the confrontation was played in music. On each side of the border stood a concert defending opposing values. On the Venezuelan side, the military had mounted a platform for a chavist show on the theme "Para la guerra, nada" ("Nothing for war"). On the Colombian side, Venezuela Aid Live has brought together tens of thousands of people.

arrival "For music and for the cause"the crowd is wearing T-shirts in the colors of Venezuela and the glory of freedom. All have a smile. "The regime of Nicolas Maduro is living his last days," rejoices Jesus, 37 years old. On the stage at the foot of the Tienditas bridge, which connects Cucuta to Venezuela, the singer Reymar Perdomo sings Fled (" I left "). The song that the 29-year-old woman, from a small town south of Caracas, composed for a living on the Lima buses became the hymn of Venezuelan migration. The crowd resumes in chorus "Maduro coño e you madre" – Venezuelan version of "nique your mother" – under the lens of cameras around the world.

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Spectators and street vendors offering soft drinks and sun hats are mostly Venezuelan. Some crossed the border early in the morning. Others have been living in Colombia for several years or several months. In total, more than three million Venezuelans fled the country devastated by the economic crisis and the growing authoritarianism of the regime.

"We're going back tomorrow," Karell says happily. University professor in his country, he has been a waiter for four months in Cucuta. Saturday morning, he planned to join the group of volunteers who intended to cross the border with humanitarian aid. The operation was set up by Juan Guaido and his teams who, for a month, defy the Chavist power. Since then, Nicolas Maduro has not stopped shouting at the coup, refusing any help sent by Washington.


Six hundred tons of food are waiting in the Cucuta sheds: a drop of water for a country of 30 million inhabitants. But the cards have become the symbol of the struggle of the Venezuelan opposition and its international allies to bring down Nicolas Maduro. "If only one box crosses the border, we will win," sums up Omar Lares, a former mayor now exiled to Cucuta.

The Colombian city – which has a million inhabitants – is the theater for two days of diplomatic activity and media attention unusual. The special envoy of the US government, Elliott Abrams, made the trip from Miami aboard a military plane in charge of food aid. "If the government of Nicolas Maduro does not fall today or tomorrow, we will continue the fight", said veteran administrations Reagan and Bush, also confirming the existence of talks between his government and the Venezuelan authorities.

Colombian President Ivan Duque came from Bogota with his Chilean counterpart Sebastian Piñera and Paraguayan Mario Abdo. The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has joined them. "The process of encirclement is irreversible," said the Colombian head of state. The right of the continent, united, intends to overcome Nicolas Maduro.

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In the lobby of the Hotel Casino de Cucuta, the atmosphere is conspiracy. The men present pay only distracted attention to the concert broadcast on giant screen. "It's tomorrow that serious things begin," Yoel explains. Member of the organizing committee, he refuses to say more about his duties. "Coordinating an operation of this size requires us to be very careful. The Venezuelan secret services – and Cuban – are everywhere, He explains. We will unveil our strategy at the last moment to prevent Nicolas Maduro's government from anticipating an answer. "

Omar Lares will be at the foot of the Union Bridge, an hour's drive from Cucuta, waiting for Juan Guaido's instructions. "More than 170,000 Venezuelans live today in Cucuta. It makes the world mobilize, rejoices this former elected municipal. Like all Venezuelan opposition leaders, he dreams of seeing a river of volunteers walking towards the border and insists on the peaceful nature of the operation: "We do not have weapons, we only have courage and words. "

"Play finer"

"The ideal scenario would be to see the National Guard depart to let the protesters pass peacefully," continues Mr. Lares. The most dramatic scenario would be that of a violent confrontation. "It would have international consequences," says the former mayor. In the Venezuelan opposition, some call for a US military intervention. Donald Trump is ambiguous about his intentions. For its part, President Maduro had, from Thursday night, announced the closure "For an indefinite period" of the land border with Brazil and Venezuela's airspace.

"I do not think that Nicolas Maduro's government is taking the risk of deploying armed force, Yoel analysis. I think he will play finer. " Like all opponents, this member of the organizing committee is optimistic. "The National Guard let us go," says Gilmar Marquez, one of the Venezuelan deputies who traveled by road to Cucuta to support the cause of humanitarian aid. "This is the sign that Nicolas Maduro is reluctant to use repression, He insists. the military knows that the country needs help, that their families need it. "

Juan Guaido had left Caracas on Thursday morning before arriving late afternoon in Cucuta, just in time to attend the closing of the concert. Struck by a ban on leaving the country, the young leader claimed that the army had contributed to the success of his journey. "We are here precisely because the armed forces have also been part of this process," he said, his fist raised and white shirt, alongside the presidents of Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States. In the evening, President Nicolas Maduro announced the temporary closure of the bridges that separate the two countries. Mr. Guaido's relatives saw in this decision a "Admission of weak power".

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Claireois (Pacaraima (Roraima), special correspondent) and Marie Delcas (Cucuta (Colombia), special correspondent)

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