by Leila MACOR / Agence France-Presse
US President Donald Trump urged Venezuela’s military Monday to accept opposition leader Juan Guaido’s amnesty offer, or stand to “lose everything,” as a crisis deepened over President Nicolas Maduro’s refusal to let in desperately needed humanitarian aid.
Bringing in humanitarian aid is crucial to the viability of Guaido, who has denounced Maduro’s re-election last year as fraudulent and in January declared himself interim president, a move recognized by some 50 countries.
He has given the Maduro government until Saturday to let the shipments into the country, which is in the grip of a humanitarian crisis due to shortages of food and medicine exacerbated by hyperinflation.
Addressing supporters and Venezuelan expatriates in Miami on Sunday, Trump declared he had a message for officials helping keep Maduro in place.
“The eyes of the entire world are upon you today, every day and every day in the future,” he said.
“You cannot hide from the choice that now confronts you. You can choose to accept president Guaido’s generous offer of amnesty to live your life in peace with your families and your countrymen.
“Or you can choose the second path: continuing to support Maduro. If you choose this path, you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything.”
Guaido has set a target of signing up to a million volunteers to help bring in the aid, with 600,000 already registered.
“On February 23, we have the opportunity to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans,” he said on Sunday.
Opposition officials Sunday hit out at state internet provider CANTV for blocking the website where volunteers are signing up to help bring in the aid, mostly supplied by the United States but stockpiled in Colombia just over the border from Venezuela.
– Committed to change –
A second aid collection center is due to begin operations in Brazil’s northeastern state of Roraima, which borders Venezuela. But there is much uncertainty over the aid in Brazil, with officials there saying they have no information at this point.
Military officials in Roraima said they had yet to receive orders, although a collection center could be set up quickly, with some businesses having already provided warehouses to that effect.
A third center is due to open this week on the Dutch island of Curacao, off Venezuela’s north coast.
Tensions mounted on Sunday after Guaido branded the government “irrational” for expelling five visiting European lawmakers.
The European Parliament members were being tossed out with no explanation, said Spanish MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons, who led a group including fellow Spaniards Jose Ignacio Salafranca and Gabriel Mato Adrover, as well as Esther de Lange of the Netherlands and Paulo Rangel of Portugal.
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the Europeans had “conspiratorial aims” and were sent back from the country’s main Maiquetia airport.
The humanitarian aid standoff is due to come to a head this weekend, when caravans of buses are set to carry volunteers to border entry points to meet and transport arriving cargo.
It is unclear how Guaido will overcome the border barriers put up by the Venezuelan military, on Maduro’s orders.
Volunteer groups have begun meeting in “humanitarian camps” in several Venezuelan states to organize and prepare for the arrival of the aid to alleviate hardship from an imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans to migrate from the oil-rich country.
Maduro, who denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, dismisses the opposition moves as a “political show” and a cover for a US invasion.
– An ‘international crime’ –
“Whoever prevents the entry of humanitarian aid is condemned to spend the rest of their lives fleeing international justice, because that is an international crime,” US Senator Marco Rubio said as he toured the Colombian collection center in Cucuta on Sunday.
Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen tons of food assistance to Cucuta on Saturday. Another US aircraft is due in Curacao from Miami on Tuesday.
On Friday, Maduro instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Guaido has ordered the armed forces to let the aid pass, but they remain loyal to Maduro’s regime.
Maduro has dismissed the humanitarian assistance as “crumbs” and “rotten and contaminated food,” while blaming shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions.
In Maduro-friendly Cuba, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said he urged the more than 100 ambassadors and heads of mission serving on the communist island to reject “the US military’s aggression of Venezuela” in a meeting.