Reuters Caracas, Capital District, Venezuela
Feb 13, 2019, 09.45 AM
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido told a huge rally of supporters on Tuesday that humanitarian aid would enter the country on February 23, setting the stage for a showdown with President Nicolas Maduro who has refused to let supplies in.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans had protested in the streets nationwide on Tuesday to demand that Maduro allow aid into the country, where food and medicine shortages are rife.
Guaido invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency three weeks ago, arguing that Maduro's re-election last year was a sham. Most Western countries, including the United States, have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate president, but Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.
An aid convoy supplied by the United States and Colombia arrived in the Colombian border town of Cucuta last week, where it is being held in warehouses. A Venezuelan opposition envoy has also said Brazil's government would try to get humanitarian aid to the border.
Maduro has denounced the aid as a US-orchestrated show to overthrow his socialist government and said it will not be let into the country. He has demanded instead that Washington lift economic sanctions.
On Tuesday, Guaido said he was issuing a "direct order" to the armed forces to allow the aid in, though so far there are not clear signs the military will disobey Maduro. Guaido did not specify from where aid would enter, but said the opposition would go in a convoy to safeguard the supplies.
Guaido, who has galvanised the opposition after several years of in-fighting and government crackdowns, vows to keep calling protests to pressure Maduro to step down so new presidential elections can be held.
On Monday, Guaido announced the first delivery of humanitarian aid, including vitamin and nutritional supplements for children and pregnant women, to a network of health centres. He did not explain how it had entered the country and said it was a small-scale donation.
Maduro's adversaries say he has run roughshod over democratic institutions and ravaged the nation's economy through nationalisations and a corruption-riddled exchange control system. Maduro counters that he is victim of an "economic war."
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans had protested in the streets nationwide on Tuesday to demand that Maduro allow aid into the country, where food and medicine shortages are rife