President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the closure of Venezuela’s border with Brazil “until further notice” amid a tense standoff with the US-backed opposition leader, Juan Guaido, over allowing in humanitarian aid.
The border with Brazil would be “completely and absolutely” closed from 8pm (00:00 GMT) onwards, Maduro said in a televised address on Thursday.
The embattled leader said he was also considering a “total closure of the border with Colombia”, where he has already ordered the military to barricade a major border bridge to prevent aid from entering the country from the Colombian border town of Cucuta where supplies are being stockpiled, most of it from the United States.
Calling the aid a “provocation” and a “child’s game”, Maduro suggested it was a precursor to a US military intervention in the oil-rich, but economically crippled the Latin American country.
“[The US] aimed to generate a huge national mess, but they didn’t succeed. The country wants peace,” he said, surrounded by members of the military.
#EnVivo 📹 | Videoconferencia con el Estado Mayor Superior de la #FANB y los Comandantes de las REDI, para verificar el apresto operacional de todas las unidades militares de la Patria. https://t.co/G99O2RgENh
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) February 21, 2019
Venezuela has already closed its maritime border with the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, after Curacao’s government said it would help store aid.
In a decree, the Venezuelan military also said it was banning vessels from sailing out of Venezuela’s ports until Sunday to avoid actions by “criminal” groups.
Despite Maduro’s announcement, the Brazilian government said it will go ahead with the airlifting of aid, and stockpile nonperishable food and medicine in the border town of Pacaraima.
Hamilton Mourao, Brazil’s vice president, told Al Jazeera Brazilian officials will not “trespass the border”.
“We can put supplies on the border and if the Venezuelans want it, they can come and get it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan opposition leader Guaido set out on Thursday to personally collect US-supplied food and medicine stockpiled in Colombia.
Guaido has set a Saturday deadline for the aid to be allowed into Venezuela. He said he aims to rally a million volunteers to start bringing to those in need.
“Confirmed – it’s rolling,” a spokesman for Guaido said on Thursday, referring to the collection operation announced by Guaido.
“We know that the regime is going to put all obstacles to prevent us from reaching the border, but nothing is stopping us, we are going to continue,” said opposition politician Yanet Fermin.
Guaido still has not provided details on how the aid could come in. Opposition figures have suggested forming human chains across the land borders to pass packages from person to person and fleets of boats arriving from the Dutch Caribbean islands.
Some have described the aid effort as a publicity stunt, rather than one to help the Venezuelan people.
“The aid itself won’t make a difference. It’s not that much aid anyway compared to the damage that’s being done by the economic sanctions US has had on Venezuela for years now,” said Mark Weisbrot, a codirector for the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“The aid is really a symbolic thing. The Trump administration and self-declared President Juan Guaido are using it as part of the regime change operation,” he said, adding: “They are trying to use it in such a way that the armed forces of Venezuela would disobey the president.”
Meanwhile, Maduro has ordered a shipment of thousands of food boxes to be distributed to Venezuelans along the Colombian border.
Food Minister Luis Medina Ramirez said on Twitter that 20,600 boxes of food from the government’s long-running subsidised food distribution programme left for the Colombian border area from the port of La Guaira.
A video posted on the minister’s account showed 11 container trucks exiting the port near Caracas.
“This is the real humanitarian aid of Venezuela,” Ramirez said.