Venezuelan soldiers reportedly killed at least two civilians and wounded at least a dozen others as the military sought to block efforts to bring humanitarian aid into the embattled nation via its southern border with Brazil.
“Instead of mediating, the military started shooting,” Emilio Gonzalez, who serves as mayor of the municipality of Gran Sabana, told CNN.
Américo De Grazia, an opposition leader, posted on social media that a man and a woman were both killed, according to the Miami Herald. The victims were identified as Zoraida Rodríguez and Rolando García, The Washington Post reported.
A tweet from Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, said the situation has escalated.
Tense situation developing on the #Venezuela #Brazil border. Reports that indigenous people in the region just burned the National Guard post at the airport after two members of their community were murdered this morning by soldiers. https://t.co/PLVQWIcd6W
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 22, 2019
“The majority of the people support the entrance of humanitarian aid, and we want to keep our border open,” Carmen Elena Silva, who says she was in the crowd of civilians when the troops opened fire, told The Post.
President Nicolas Maduro, who is struggling to retain power, had earlier closed the border with Brazil. Maduro has isolated the nation, claiming the aid convoys are a pretext for a coup.
The Trump administration deplored the shooting, according to The Post.
“The United States condemns the killings, attacks, and the hundreds of arbitrary detentions that have taken place in Venezuela,” a State Department spokesman told the outlet.
“We stand with the victims’ families in demanding justice and accountability,” the spokesman said.
Adding to the tensions was Friday’s appearance in Cúcuta, Colombia, of Juan Guaidó, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition. Guaidó has been recognized by at least 50 nations, including the U.S., as the legitimate chief executive of Venezuela.
Guaidó came to lend his support to efforts to break the blockade Maduro imposed on aid. Although technically subject to arrest if he enters Venezuela, his spokesman Edward Rodriguez, when asked if Guaidó was planning to enter Venezuela, said, “Of course he is,” according to The Post.
The action adds to the high-stakes nature of the showdown.
“He (Guaidó ) is risking a lot,” political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas told The Post. “Unless he’s sure the international reaction will have a big enough magnitude to leave Maduro with no option other than letting him back in. But the risk is too high and there’s no guarantee of what will happen. To me, it seems unnecessary.”
Guaidó and his allies, however, are using the aid shipments not only to address rampant hunger, but to get the military to break from Maduro.
Guaidó said the shooting of civilians who tried to bring in aid “will not go unpunished.”
“Decide which side you are in at this final hour. To all the military: between today and tomorrow you will define how you want to be remembered. We already know that they are with the people, you have made it very clear to us. Tomorrow you can prove it,” he wrote on social media, according to CNN.
As border tensions rose, British billionaire Richard Branson was staging a Live Aid concert in Colombia, just across the Venezuelan border, Fox News reported. The concert drew more than 200,000 people, and was supported by neighboring governments.
“I would like to send a message to Maduro,” Chilean leader President Sebastian Piñera said. “There is nothing crueler than a government that denies and closes the entry of humanitarian aid that his own people need so much.”
“And I can’t stop wondering, how can a person be so greedy to be willing to cause so much pain and so much suffering to his own people for so long, only to hold on to a power that does not belong to him.”
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