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Venezuela’s Guaido Challenges Maduro Through Humanitarian Aid

(AFP) Boosted by the backing of 20 European Union countries, Venezuela’s opposition warned the military on Tuesday not to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the country as parliament leader Juan Guaido stepped up his challenge to President Nicolas Maduro’s authority.

The opposition-dominated National Assembly warned the military, the power behind Maduro, not to cross the “red line” by blocking aid.

Guaido, who proclaimed himself acting president January 23, claims that up to 300,000 people face death if the aid is not delivered.

“You know there’s a red line, you know well there’s a limit, you know that medicines, food and medical supplies are that limit,” lawmaker Miguel Pizarro said in a message to the military.

Maduro, though, claims humanitarian aid would be the forerunner of a US-led invasion.

“Here in Venezuela nothing will enter, not one invading soldier,” said the 56-year-old president.

Maduro has repeatedly accused the United States of fomenting a coup by Guaido.

The US, which has not ruled out a military intervention in crisis-wracked Venezuela, was the first to recognize him as acting president, followed by a dozen Latin American countries.

Britain, France, Germany and Spain were among 20 EU nations to side with Guaido this week after Maduro ignored their demands that he announce new presidential elections by February 3

– Interference –

Guaido is trying to force Maduro from power, set up a transitional government and hold a new presidential poll.

He thanked his EU supporters “for supporting all Venezuelans in this struggle we undertake to rescue our nation’s democracy, freedom and justice.”

But key Maduro ally Russia slammed what it called interference in the oil-rich but now poor Latin American country, saying it was an attempt to “legitimize usurped power.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of trying to “topple the government by violence and ruse,” while berating the US for treating Venezuela like “one of your states.”

Guaido, 35, claims his legitimacy from the constitution and has been ramping up pressure on Maduro by calling his supporters out into the streets.

The next mass demonstration is due for February 12.

Guaido must still find a way to bring in the humanitarian aid given the military’s loyalty to Maduro.

He accused the military on Monday of planning to divert aid being stockpiled in Colombia, Brazil and an unidentified Caribbean island, in order to distribute it through the socialist government’s subsidized food program for its own supporters.

The National Assembly said the military must decide whether it is on the side of the people or “the problem.”

Guaido knows he needs the armed forces on his side to dislodge Maduro. He was boosted on Saturday by the defection of a top air force general.

His fledgling alternative administration will hold talks in Washington February 14 on responding to “the largest hemispheric humanitarian crisis in modern history.”

– ‘Confrontation’ –

Analysts Eurasia Group say the humanitarian crisis “represents a lose-lose gambit for Maduro as he will either have to allow the goods to enter the country, further bolstering Guaido, or force the military to block their entry, which would likely lead to more blowback in the streets.”

Maduro, though, remains steadfast.

“Venezuela doesn’t have to beg to anyone,” he said. “If they want to help, then end the blockade and the sanctions.”

The US has stepped up the pressure on Maduro’s regime by imposing sanctions on state oil company PDVSA in a bid to starve the administration of its funding.

But on Monday, Guaido accused Maduro of trying to illicitly transfer up to $1.2 billion from public coffers to a bank in Uruguay, urging the Montevideo government “not to lend itself to stealing.”

Under Maduro’s stewardship, oil-dependent Venezuela has plunged into an economic crisis, suffering from hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.

Eurasia said US oil sanctions are “set to have a broad impact” with the government facing “the prospect of running out of gasoline, which could serve as another social catalyst.”

– Maduro won’t cave –

Guaido branded Maduro illegitimate over his reelection in May, which the opposition boycotted after several of its leaders were either jailed, barred or forced into exile.

The US and EU dismissed the elections as a fraud.

Maduro has flatly rejected demands for new elections, telling Spanish television he would not “cave in to pressure.” 

He has supported plans for a meeting of Latin American and EU states in a “Contact Group” in Montevideo on Thursday, though.

The United Nations said 40 people were killed in clashes with security forces in a week of protests last month, coinciding with Guaido’s self-proclamation as acting leader. Local NGO Foro Penal said almost 1,000 people were detained between January 21 and 31.

mis/bc/jm

© Agence France-Presse

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