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RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian authorities on Friday began moving humanitarian aid to its northern border with Venezuela even though the international crossing has been closed.
Brazil's air force sent a plane with food and medicine to Boa Vista, the main city in the northern state of Roraima. They planned to transport via trucks the goods, which included rice, powered milk and first aid kits, to Pacaraima, the city that borders Venezuela.
Humanitarian aid to Venezuela has become a flashpoint in the struggle between President Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido, who has been recognized by over 50 nations, including Brazil, as the country's president.
Guaido has announced plans to bring in aid on Saturday via Brazil, Colombia and the Caribbean island of Curacao.
In anticipation of the planned aid delivery on Saturday, on Thursday Maduro closed Brazil's border crossing. The maritime border with Curacao had also been shut.
Brazilian officials stressed Friday they would not engage in a military confrontation with oil-rich Venezuela, which supplies much of Roraima's energy.
"We have to wait and see how things develop," Augusto Heleno, minister of institutional security, told Globo News. "What's clear is that Brazil will not take any aggressive action."
Still, desperately needed aid sitting on the border was sure to raise tensions in Pacaraima, a dusty city with many dirt roads. In recent years, Pacaraima has received thousands of Venezuelans crossing the border in search of food and medicine. While most Venezuelans continue to other Brazilian cities, the most destitute stay in Pacaraima because they have no money for bus fare.
Instead, they sleep on the sides of roads, look for odd jobs and try to hitch hike to Boa Vista, about three hours drive south. Many are emaciated and have health problems.
On Friday, many Venezuelans could be seen crossing the border illegally away from the checkpoint.