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February 27, 2019

Venezuelans trapped along border after weekend unrest: US wants to ‘fabricate’ Venezuela crisis to start war


February 27, 2019

WASHINGTON: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the American government of manufacturing a crisis in an attempt to start a war in South America, in an interview broadcast on Monday.

"Everything that the United States government has done has been doomed to failure," Maduro told American broadcaster ABC News from the presidential palace in Caracas in remarks translated by the network from Spanish.

"They are trying to fabricate a crisis to justify political escalation and a military intervention in Venezuela to bring a war to South America." Earlier in the day, US Vice President Mike Pence announced $56 million in aid to Venezuelans as well as tougher US sanctions as he joined a Lima Group meeting of Latin American countries plus Canada that was also attended by opposition leader Juan Guaido.

The United States is among some 50 countries that recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. Maduro blasted the talks in Bogota as being "politics to attempt to establish a parallel government in Venezuela."

Washington, he said, "wants Venezuela’s oil" and is "willing to go to war for that oil." "The extremist Ku Klux Klan government that Donald Trump directs wants a war over oil, and more than just oil," Maduro said, describing Venezuela as a "pacifist, humble nation."

But he also said he was ready to participate in a "direct dialogue" with the Trump administration. Asked if he would allow Guaido back into the country, Maduro said: "He has to respect the laws." Guaido "can leave and come back and will have to see the face of justice because justice had prohibited him from him leaving the country."

Meanwhile, some Venezuelans are living in limbo across the border in Colombia, trapped after a failed effort to bring humanitarian aid into their country. That weekend drive turned violent as supporters of the opposition clashed with Venezuelan security forces on the borders with Colombia and Brazil, leaving four people dead.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro later shut down four bridges that cross the frontier into Colombia. So some Venezuelans who came across to volunteer in the aid shipment effort, or who work in Colombia but live in Venezuela, are suddenly trapped on the Colombian side.

One of those volunteers is Nicolasa Gil, 71, who says she does not mind having to sleep on the streets of the border town of Cucuta. "What scares me is going over into my country, because we are safer here than there," she told AFP.

She recalled how she and other volunteers were trying to cross one of the bridges over the weekend with trucks carrying food and medicine and all hell broke loose at the midway point of the span when Venezuelan riot police intervened. "As soon as we reached that point, they attacked us with tear gas and we had to leave the trucks. Those animals burned them," said Gil.

Gil said she had not been home to her native Venezuelan state of Merida since Saturday because she heeded opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido’s call for people to go into Colombia and bring back mainly US aid that has been stockpiled at the border.

Some 300 people were wounded in the clashes along the Colombian border. On the streets of the Cucuta neighborhood closest to the Francisco de Paula Santander bridge, Colombian riot police are on patrol.

One walks past a woman named Elizabeth Machua as she tells her story. She is Colombian, and for 30 years has lived across the border in the Venezuelan town of Urena. These days, she comes back to Colombia to work as a manicurist. That was her job in Venezuela too, but hyperinflation there has reduced people’s wages to almost nothing.

On Thursday she kissed her three-year-old son Adan Alejandro goodbye before leaving him at a nursery, and crossed the border into Colombia. Now, because of all the unrest, she can’t get back home. She sleeps at the home of a work colleague. Machua says she is having a hard time reaching the babysitter who is now looking after her boy. She can’t reach anyone else, either.

"I imagine they are blocking calls," said Machua, who is 40. She said she is so furious she is considering supporting the idea of the use of military force to oust Maduro. US President Donald Trump says he has not ruled out this option.

"What must happen, let it happen," said Machua. She said no one is telling her when she will be able to go home and be with her son. On the same street, John Carlos Gaitan, 31, is drinking water out of a plastic bag. He and some friends came to Colombia Friday for a fund-raising concert supported by Guaido and the opposition.

Now he can’t get home either and for the first time in his life is living on the street. Gaitan said he and his friends are considering trying to sneak back into Venezuela using one of some 30 illegal border crossings that police say exist in the Cucuta area.

But that’s dangerous, he said, because some of those paths are controlled by smugglers, drug traffickers or pro-government armed gangs like those which attacked protesters on Saturday. Gaitan said there were reports that some of those gangs are looking in the news media for pictures of opposition supporters in order to attack them when they cross back into Venezuela. "I wish I were with my family," said Gaitan.

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