Two blue shipping containers, an orange fuel tanker, and a makeshift fence are barricading a Venezuelan bridge at a key border crossing with Colombia in an attempt to block humanitarian aid from entering the country.
The Venezuelan National Guard on Wednesday blocked the Tienditas international bridge which connects the two countries and has become the location for a planned relief effort backed by the opposition.
“It’s means of intimidation, but I don’t think it will accomplish anything,” said Alba Pereira of nonprofit Entre Dos Tierras. “It’s convenient for them to let the country continue enduring this absurd crisis.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the Venezuelan military's actions and demanded the bridge be reopened to let the aid through.
"The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but #Venezuela’s military under Maduro's orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE. #EstamosUnidosVE," he tweeted.
President Nicolas Maduro has repeatedly denied his economically devastated country is facing a humanitarian crisis, despite multiple reports coming out of Venezuela of people suffering from lack of basic necessities including access to medicine.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who claims to have assumed presidential power as head of the opposition-led National Assembly, has worked to push aid in through Venezuela’s borders in an attempt to further pressure Maduro’s regime and restore democracy in the country.
Guaido, who has the backing of roughly 40 countries led by the United States, has said the humanitarian aid will begin flowing into the South American countries despite Maduro’s objections.
He has urged border troops to not stand in the way of humanitarian aid that is intended to help “your family, your sister, your mom, your wife – who surely need these supplies.”
“The main goal now is to look to break the military – and the humanitarian aid is basically the Trojan horse to try to do that,” Maryhen Jiménez Morales, an Oxford University specialist in Venezuelan politics, told The Guardian.
Defiant Maduro maintains control of the military and calls the Guaido-led opposition a puppet of the United States, which he says is seeking to colonize Venezuela and exploit its vast oil resources.
"We are not beggars," Maduro said this week
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, U.S. President Donald Trump ratcheted up pressure on the embattled Maduro government, saying that the U.S. stands with the people of Venezuela in their "noble quest for freedom."
"We condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair," Trump said.
Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo on Wednesday condemned any attempts to block aid from entering.
Speaking in Washington, Trujillo said he also spoke about the Venezuelan crisis in a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton.
"Committing such a crime would give even more reason for the unified countries to ask the International Criminal Court to investigate Maduro," Trujillo said after another meeting with the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro.
Colombia, which shares a 1,370-mile border with Venezuela, is also backing Guaido.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.