BOGOTA, Colombia — Humanitarian aid will enter Venezuela on Feb. 23, opposition leader Juan Guaido said Tuesday, as tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Caracas to demand the delivery of supplies blocked behind the Colombian border.
Guaido told protesters in the capital he was giving the army an “order” to let the aid in, adding that Venezuela was waging “a war against hunger, poverty,” according to comments carried in the daily El Nacional.
Guaido was quoted as saying that Feb. 23 had been set as the date when aid would enter Venezuela and that more than 250,000 people had volunteered to help receive and distribute it.
About 100 tons of food, medicine and hygiene products donated by the United States are currently stuck in the Colombian border city of Cucuta after Venezuela blocked the Tienditas border bridge.
President Nicolas Maduro has vowed not to allow the delivery of the aid, which he regards as a pretext for U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.
The army is seen as a crucial player in the standoff between Maduro and Guaido. It has so far sided with the president, but is believed to be divided.
Demonstrations to demand the arrival of the aid were staged around the country Tuesday, while a pro-Maduro rally was also held in Caracas to mark the country’s Youth Day.
The protest rallies had been called by Guaido, whose ability to mobilize the aid is seen as a key test of his capacity to challenge Maduro.
Guaido last month declared himself interim president and quickly won the recognition of most Western countries. He is demanding the resignation of Maduro, who won a May election widely seen as undemocratic.
“We Venezuelans shall return to the streets … to demand the entry of humanitarian aid which will save the lives of more than 300,000 Venezuelans now at risk of dying,” Guaido tweeted late Monday.
Maduro has presided over a massive economic crisis, with inflation expected to reach 10 million percent this year and large numbers of people suffering from acute shortages of food and medicine.
Maduro, however, has denied there is a humanitarian crisis and blamed the economic problems on U.S. sanctions.
In an interview with the BBC published Tuesday, the president accused U.S. President Donald Trump’s “gang of extremists” of “warmongering to take over Venezuela.”
A Guaido representative meanwhile said in Rome that Venezuela needs $80 billion in immediate international aid.
Guaido’s team is in touch with institutions including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, said Francisco Sucre, head of a delegation that held talks with Vatican and Italian officials.
The visit was partly aimed at persuading Italy to fall in line with other European Union nations that have recognized Guaido as interim president.
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