The Latest: Venezuela partially closes Colombian border
CUCUTA, Colombia (AP) — The Latest on the political crisis in Venezuela (all times local):
Venezuela’s government is ordering the partial closure of its border with Colombia hours ahead of a U.S.-backed plan to deliver humanitarian aid over the objections of President Nicolas Maduro.
Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said on Twitter that the government was ordering the temporary closure of three crossings in Tachira state because of the “serious and illegal threats” against Venezuela’s peace and sovereignty coming from Colombia’s government.
The border area is where supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaido are looking to deliver several tons of emergency food and medical supplies airlifted to Colombia in recent days by the Trump administration.
Venezuela’s foreign minister says about 60 countries have backed its campaign to promote the U.N. Charter’s principles of non-interference in a nation’s internal affairs and opposition to threats to use force — and have come up with seven proposed initiatives and actions.
Jorge Arreaza gave no details to reporters after a closed-door meeting at the United Nations but said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Security Council, the General Assembly and its president, and the Geneva-based Human Rights Council “would have to take actions.”
One action under consideration is a proposed letter to Guterres which Venezuela circulated to 46 countries last week expressing “serious concerns” at what it called “threats to use force” against Venezuela in violation of the U.N. Charter.
Arreaza said he expects “some news” next week after diplomats discuss the proposed initiatives with their governments.
Countries attending the meeting included Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Syria, South Africa and Bolivia.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said everyone at the meeting was very concerned that something might happen Saturday during the opposition’s attempt to deliver aid “that could trigger unpredictable events.”
Venezuela’s foreign minister Jorge Arreaza is calling the opposition’s attempt to deliver aid on Saturday “a spectacle” and is accusing the United States of orchestrating the event “to generate violence” and get the military to rise up.
“We can only hope that sanity and good sense will prevail in Cucuta, in Colombia, and that it will just remain as a big show, a big party, and that they don’t try to open the doors to a military intervention,” Arreaza told a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday.
Responding to a question about what orders Venezuela’s military has been given to deal with people who may try to cross the border, Arreaza said “members of the Venezuelan military ... will never have orders to fire on the civilian population.”
“Our armed forces protect our national sovereignty and never will take action in a disproportionate manner against our people and citizens,” he said.
As for the aid, Arreaza said, “we don’t even know what’s in those boxes.”
He said President Nicolas Maduro announced Thursday that Venezuela will accept help from the United Nations and the European Union, “but it has to be done in the right ways.”
Opposition leader Juan Guaido says millions of Venezuelans will take to the streets to usher in international humanitarian aid.
Guaido spoke late Friday from Cucuta, Colombia, on the eve of efforts to bring emergency food and medicine to Venezuela’s neediest over the objections of President Nicolas Maduro.
The opposition leader has declared presidential powers, vowing to oust Maduro and restore democracy to Venezuela.
Guaido slipped across the Venezuelan border to attend a benefit concert in Cucuta, where tons of the aid is warehoused.
He says he and other lawmakers made the trip across Venezuela with the help of the country’s military, a key player needed to defeat Maduro.
Guaido says Venezuela is in search of freedom and thanks to the people of the world for supporting this historic moment.
Venezuela’s foreign minister says the Maduro government is still in discussions with the United States on extending an agreement for U.S. diplomats to stay in Caracas.
Jorge Arreaza told a press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York late Friday that there is a meeting pending with the U.S. envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams to “work out, flesh out” an agreement. He denied reports that an agreement has been reached.
After the Trump administration recognized parliament chief Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader last month, President Nicolas Maduro severed diplomatic relations with the U.S., ordered the expulsion of all American diplomats, and recalling Venezuelan diplomats from the United States.
The U.S. reduced its staff at the Caracas embassy to a bare minimum but said it had no plans to close the mission. An interim arrangement allowing the U.S. diplomats to remain in Venezuela is due to expire on Monday.
Arreaza said two preliminary meetings on the issue of the U.S. diplomats were held in New York, “and there may be a third one soon,” which he hopes will take place while he’s still in the city.
“At any event it will depend on initiatives on both sides, and the respect that we have for each other,” Arreaza said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to negotiate with the United States when they are sticking their nose every day into our affairs.”
Musicians are wrapping up a giant concert to pressure Nicolas Maduro to let humanitarian aid into Venezuela with a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
Richard Branson took the stage and led a crowd of thousands in chanting “Freedom” and pumping their fists in the air to close the event.
He noted that Venezuelan authorities blocked many viewers inside the country from seeing the concert online and called for the release of political prisoners.
As the last song concluded, Branson shouted to the crowd in Spanish, “Thank you!”
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has shown up at a benefit concert across the border in Colombia, defying orders banning him from travelling outside the country.
Guaido’s surprise appearance Friday at the star-studded “Live Aid Venezuela” concert attended by thousands of Venezuelans marks a new test of authority for President Nicolas Maduro.
He was greeted with shouts of: “Juan arrived! Juan arrived!”
Guaido was met backstage by Colombian President Ivan Duque.
Venezuela’s Supreme Court stacked with Maduro loyalists had banned Guaido from leaving the country, announcing that the opposition leader was under investigation for declaring himself interim president a month ago at an outdoor rally in Caracas
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is strongly appealing for violence to be avoided on Saturday, which Venezuela’s opposition leader has set as a deadline to bring emergency food and medicine into the country.
President Nicolas Maduro says humanitarian aid isn’t needed and has vowed to block attempts to bring it into Venezuela.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We’ve been following the situation with increasing concern ... and again very much appeal to ensure that there is no violence.”
Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York on Friday that “this is a message the secretary-general has been conveying privately and publicly all around.”
Guterres discussed Venezuela Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but Dujarric gave no details of their talks.
Dujarric reiterated U.N. concerns “about the politicization of humanitarian aid.”
“For our part, aid should be used in a way that is impartial and that is free of political or any military objectives,” he said.
The United States and Venezuela have reached an agreement to extend the stay of U.S. diplomats in Caracas amid skyrocketing tensions between the countries.
U.S. officials say the agreement will allow the diplomats to remain in Venezuela for another 30 days amid a battle over the legitimacy of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Trump administration last month recognized parliament chief Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader and demanded Maduro step down. In response, Maduro announced he was severing diplomatic relations with the U.S., expelling all American diplomats and recalling Venezuelan diplomats from the United States.
The U.S. reduced its staff at the Caracas embassy to a bare minimum but said it had no plans to close the mission. An interim arrangement allowing that was due to expire on Monday.
An internet watchdog group says a benefit concert for Venezuela has been blocked from view for many of the people it is intended to help.
The non-governmental group Netblocks reported Friday that websites and TV stations showing the Live Aid Venezuela concert in the Colombian border town of Cucuta appear to have been blocked.
British billionaire Richard Branson organized the concert to shed light on shipments of humanitarian aid that President Nicolas Maduro will not allow in.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido has vowed to deliver the aid on Saturday.
Netblocks says YouTube, Bing and Google services inside Venezuela went down for nearly an hour during the concert.
A benefit concert on the Colombian border with Venezuela has kicked off with an artist singing a song about her personal struggles as a migrant.
Strumming her ukulele, Reymar Perdomo on Friday sang “I Left,” which has become the unofficial anthem of Venezuelans fleeing their country’s economic and political crisis.
Perdomo was the first to take the stage at the Cucuta concert organized by British billionaire Richard Branson, who is trying to shed light on Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido plans to bring aid into Venezuela on Saturday, defying President Nicolas Maduro.
Perdomo said performing so close to the border where she herself crossed not long ago brought back difficult memories. She also said she’s confident there will be change because Venezuelans were showing they wanted it.
Thousands gathered for the concert.
The Trump administration says it’s sent nearly 200 metric tons of humanitarian assistance over the past two weeks to the Colombian-Venezuelan border for distribution inside Venezuela.
The U.S. Agency for International Development says Friday that about 191 tons of relief supplies have been delivered to a depot in Cucuta, Colombia since Feb. 4. That includes food for 2,000 people for a month and medical material such as hygiene kits, wheelchairs, crutches, bandages and examination gloves.
The aid is part of a $20 million package the administration announced last month after it recognized National Assembly head Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader and demanded that President Nicolas Maduro step down.
Maduro has ordered the borders with Colombia and Brazil closed as the opposition makes plans to bring the assistance in.
Officials in Venezuela say a woman has been killed and a dozen more injured in a clash with security forces on the border with Brazil.
Gran Sabana Mayor Emilio Gonzalez identified the woman shot dead Friday as Zoraida Rodriguez, a member of an indigenous community.
A day earlier, President Nicolas Maduro ordered the border closed as the opposition made plans to bring in humanitarian aid from Brazil and two other neighboring countries on Saturday.
Gonzalez says members of the Pemon ethnic group clashed with the Venezuela National Guard and army, who were moving tanks to the border with Brazil.
He says the soldiers fired rubber bullets and tear gas and the injured people were taken for medical treatment.
British billionaire Richard Branson said he hopes a fundraising concert he is organizing on behalf of Venezuela will convince soldiers to disobey President Nicolas Maduro and allow shipments of humanitarian aid sitting on the border to pass.
Branson said he postponed in California a planned test flight into space by his Virgin Galactic company to join dozens of pop artists from Latin America in the Colombian city of Cucuta for Friday’s concert.
He said he and a Colombian entrepreneur friend got the idea for a concert after speaking by phone with opposition leader Juan Guaido and his political mentor Leopoldo Lopez.
The U.S. and dozens of other countries recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president.
“For those people who think Venezuela is a utopia and Venezuela isn’t suffering they should really come here into the crowd today and ask them why they are leaving,” Branson said at a press conference early Friday.
Venezuela’s deputy foreign minister who is visiting Moscow says the embattled Venezuelan president is in persistent contact with Russia’s leader.
Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Gil said at a meeting in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament on Friday that President Nicolas Maduro is “constantly in touch” with President Vladimir Putin on the phone. He thanked Russia for a recent shipment of medicine but reiterated the government stance that there is no humanitarian crisis in the South American country.
Russia and China have been staunch backers of Maduro.
Venezuela’s government and the opposition are set for a showdown on Saturday as the opposition pledges to draw crowds to the country’s western border to try to usher in aid that Maduro has vowed not to accept.
The U.N. refugee and migration agencies say some 3.4 million people have now fled Venezuela, up from a November estimate of 3 million people.
The joint envoy for refugee agency UNCHR and the International Organization for Migration, Eduardo Stein, praised the “tremendous solidarity” shown by Venezuela’s neighbors to people leaving the country.
The agencies said Colombia hosts the highest number of Venezuela emigrants — more than 1.1 million — followed by Peru with 506,000 and Chile with 288,000. Brazil has taken in 96,000 Venezuelans.
UNHCR responded to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s vow to shut the border with Brazil and not let aid through by highlighting the “utmost importance that the people in need of international protection can seek the protection they require.”
UNHCR said its Venezuela operation helped 80,000 people with issues like documentation, education, nutrition and sanitation.
An opposition lawmaker travelling across Venezuela to collect humanitarian aid at the Colombian border says somebody threw two large rocks at a bus in her caravan.
Deputy lawmaker Mariela Magallanes of the opposition-controlled National Assembly said Friday’s pre-dawn incident was a direct attack that left a backup driver injured.
The caravan of buses was travelling overnight from Caracas to the Venezuelan border town of Urena, where opposition supporters are planning to collect international aid despite President Nicolas Maduro’s refusal to let it enter.
Magallanes says the rocks went through the windshield on the passenger side.
She says it’s unclear who was responsible and the driver was being treated for injuries.
Photos on social media show a broken windshield and a pool of blood on the floor of the bus.
Magallanes says the attack won’t stop the humanitarian aid from coming into Venezuela.
Venezuela’s power struggle is set to become a battle of the bands on Friday.
Dueling concerts near the border between Venezuela and Colombia will literally set the stage for a showdown between the beleaguered government of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leaders who are trying to usher in aid.
British billionaire Richard Branson is sponsoring a Live Aid-style concert featuring dozens of musicians including Latin rock star Juanes on one side of the border, while Maduro’s socialist government is promising a three-day festival deemed “Hands Off Venezuela” on the other.
“The eyes of the world will be on Venezuela,” opposition leader David Smolansky said in advance of the concert.