Venezuela’s opposition lawmakers, lead by National Assembly leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaidó, boarded buses Thursday on their way to confront a blockade that’s keeping humanitarian aid away from the desperate citizens of the South American nation.
They left from Caracas early Thursday en route to the border with Colombia, where aid from the U.S. and other countries has piled up for weeks. They have two goals in mind ahead of a Saturday deadline to receive the aid: They want to let in food and medicine to help the millions of Venezuelans affected by the humanitarian crisis gripping the country. But they also want to deal a blow to President Nicolás Maduro, who has rejected the aid because he says Venezuelans are not “beggars.”
The aid is currently being held back by the Venezuelan military, which remains loyal to Maduro. But Guaidó, who has been recognized as the country’s rightful president by more than 50 nations, has warned the military that aid will enter the country “one way or another.”
He is reportedly betting that the troops amassed at the border will not resort to violence to stop a large group of civilians from bringing food and medicine into the country. And if the military allows the aid in, the opposition believes “they will essentially have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s commander in chief,” the AP reports. They also believe that aid moving into the country, against Maduro’s wishes, will weaken his hold on power.
In an interview with CNBC, one opposition lawmaker, Angel Alvarado, acknowledged that the civilians will be at an extreme disadvantage should violence break out: “We have to be very careful. Our objective is not to fight … We are peaceful people. We don’t have guns, we don’t have anything.”
On Monday in Miami, President Trump issued a warning to Venezuela’s military. He said they should allow the aid into the country. If they don’t, they will find “no safe harbor, no easy exit, and no way out,” he said.
“You will lose everything,” Trump warned. It’s unclear whether or how Trump would follow through on these threats. His national security adviser, John Bolton, has said that U.S. troops who have helped amass aid on the other side of the border will not cross into Venezuela.
What is clear is that Maduro is not planning to back down ahead of the Saturday confrontation. On Wednesday he closed the border to air and sea traffic from three Caribbean islands and today he shut down the Brazilian border. He’s also warned that the “total closure of the Colombian border” could be next.