CUCUTA, Colombia — The day after military, police and civilian gangs loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro inflicted a brutal crackdown on Venezuelans trying to reach international shipments of food, medicine and other supplies in Colombia, U.S. officials appeared to be preparing to send more humanitarian aid to South America from an air base in South Florida.
Witnesses reported activity at the Homestead Air Reserve Base, including C-130 transport planes. Sources with knowledge of the situation said the Trump administration may send another shipment of humanitarian aid to South America. But there was no word on when.
After Saturday’s bloody clash on the international bridge that connects Colombia to the Venezuelan town of Urena, Colombian government officials said they would close the span to evaluate damage.
Venezuelan security forces shot tear gas and rubber bullets at people trying to reach the shipments Saturday and about 100 members of the Venezuelan military abandoned their posts and defected to neighboring countries, Colombian immigration officials reported.
International aid has been shipped to Venezuela at the request of Juan Guaido, the self-proclaimed interim president, who has challenged Maduro’s rule and called for new elections as the country has continued to suffer with severe shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities. Maduro has denied that a humanitarian crisis exists and has called the international aid part of a U.S. plot to stage a coup.
On Saturday, Maduro called Guaido a “puppet” of the United States and a “dummy” and he has accused the United States in the past of wanting to exploit Venezuela’s oil — a sentiment echoed in comments last month by National Security Advisor John Bolton, who said the U.S. economy could benefit if American oil companies were allowed to invest in Venezuelan oil production.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday” that “every option is on the table” when asked about the possibility of a U.S. military intervention.
And he said on CNN that the aid sent by the United States is “just humanitarian,” noting that other nations, including Canada and members of the European Union, had also contributed. Pompeo also accused Venezuela’s closest international allies of pushing the country to the brink of collapse.
“We’re aimed at a singular mission, ensuring that the Venezuelan people get the democracy that they so richly deserve and that the Cubans and Russians, who have been driving this country into the ground for years and years and years, no longer hold sway,” Pompeo said.
The standoff for Venezuela’s presidency has put the United States and many of its allies on the side of Guaido, leader of the country’s National Assembly, against those that support Maduro or a status quo. That includes Russia, China and other nations that blocked a U.S. push in January for a United Nations Security Council statement expressing support for the National Assembly as Venezuela’s only democratically elected body.
Early Sunday, the European Union and the government of Brazil issued statements condemning Maduro for blocking the international aid. The Brazilian government “vehemently condemned” the violent acts perpetrated by what it called “the illegitimate regime of the dictator Nicolas Maduro.”
Federica Mogherini, an Italian politician and High Representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, called on Venezuelan security forces to “show moderation, avoid the use of force and allow the aid to enter.”
On Monday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to be in Bogota, Colombia, for a meeting of the Lima Group — a bloc of 14 mostly Latin American countries — where he’s expected to ask Maduro to step down. Late Saturday, Guaido said he would attend that meeting and posted a message on Twitter that he will ask the international community to consider “all options to liberate our country”.
Although organizers said some food and medical supplies moved from Brazil into southern Venezuela Saturday, high-profile efforts from Colombia seemed to fail amid stiff resistance.
And the cost was high. By day’s end, at least four people were dead and more than 280 had been injured in Colombia alone, according Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, advocacy groups and field medics.