At least four Venezuelan troops have abandoned their posts at the country’s border with Colombia as confrontations with protesters over incoming humanitarian aid grow more violent by the day.
The soldiers abandoned their watch on Saturday near the Simon Bolivar International Bridge at the Venezuela-Colombian border and reportedly requested assistance from Colombian immigration officials. In nearby Urena, the Venezuelan National Guard fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters attempting to cross the border in order to work, BBC reports. Protesters were seen throwing rocks at troops and attacking buses.
On Friday, at least two people were reportedly killed by Venezuelan forces near the Brazilian border.
Rising tensions have erupted amid opposition leader and self-declared President Juan Guaido’s decision to lead a caravan with thousands of volunteers to the Colombian border to collect at least 200 tons of humanitarian aid, primarily food and medicine. Guaido rose to power last month, arguing that Nicolas Maduro’s re-election in May 2018 was invalid and marred by vote-rigging.
On Thursday, Maduro announced that he planned to close Venezuela’s border with Brazil “totally and completely” to stop the import of humanitarian aid from foreign countries, namely the United States. He added that he would close the border between Colombia if necessary.
Maduro argued that foreign aid was an attempt by the United States to undermine his authority. The United States has vocalized support for Maduro’s opposition, while Maduro has received support from countries such as Russia, Cuba and China.
“What the U.S. empire is doing with its puppets is an internal provocation,” Maduro said on Thursday. “They wanted to generate a great national commotion, but they didn’t achieve it.”
Through his Twitter account on Saturday, Maduro emboldened Venezuelans to “mobilize.”
“Let’s all take to the streets to defend our independence with conscience and joy,” he wrote.
The decision for Venezuelan troops to abandon their posts at the Colombian border illustrates the conflict posed by pressures from opposing political forces in a time of great economic strife for the Venezuelan people. The United Nations announced in August that more than three million migrants and refugees left Venezuela because of its lack of food and medications.
“I’ve spent days thinking about this,” said one of the soldiers who left his post. The man, whose identity was not revealed, called on other soldiers to join him in abandoning their support for Maduro’s socialist government.
“There is a lot of discontent inside the forces, but also lots of fear,” he added.
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