Venezuela’s border blockade to stop the entry of humanitarian aid from the United States, Brazil, and other partner nations, prompted leaders to discuss new ways to fight Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
On February 25, 2019, leaders from the Lima Group met in Bogotá, Colombia, to discuss the Venezuelan crisis. The meeting followed three days marked by tension and violence at Venezuela’s shared borders with Colombia and Brazil.
“To leaders around the world: It’s time,” said U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, at the meeting in Bogotá. “There can be no bystanders in Venezuela’s struggle for freedom.”
Violence erupted and led to riots when the Bolivarian National Forces (GNB, in Spanish) shut the borders to stop the entry of humanitarian aid to Venezuela from Colombia and Brazil. Acting upon Maduro’s orders, Venezuelan service members blocked sections of roads and bridges. Conflicts with demonstrators and supporters of interim President Juan Guaidó ensued, as they attempted to gain access to food and medication coming from the United States and Brazil.
The United States planned to deliver about 180 tons of supplies through Colombia, including food, toiletries, and medical supplies for roughly 25,000 people. The U.S. military delivered the humanitarian aid to the Colombian city of Cúcuta. In cooperation with the U.S. government, Brazil aimed to provide 200 tons of food, including rice, beans, and salt, as well as first-aid kits.
People killed and injured
Five trucks arrived at the border between Colombia and Venezuela, ready to deliver the aid to Venezuelan people. As the standoff between demonstrators and GNB service members intensified, Chavista troops set two trucks on fire on a bridge on the border line between both countries. The troops’ actions prompted the other trucks to return to Cúcuta without delivering the aid. Conflicts between troops loyal to Maduro and opponents resulted in 285 injured.
The United Nations (UN) condemned the humanitarian aid destruction. At a press briefing, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General said “any burning of humanitarian aid is to be condemned.”
Violence at the border between Brazil and Venezuela resulted in four casualties and dozens injured between February 23 and 24. The two trucks that departed from Pacaraima city, Roraima state, Brazil, reached Venezuela, but the riots forced them to turn back. According to Brazilian presidential spokesman Otávio Rêgo Barros, the food and medicine will be stored in a warehouse at Boa Vista, Roraima, until the border reopens. “The medication and food that we carry have a long shelf life. Two, three months [of storage] are not a concern for us,” said Rêgo Barros.
Citing the violent episodes at the border, the Brazilian government announced on February 24 that the Ministry of Defense extended the capabilities of Operation Shelter, increasing medical personnel and expanding the medical evacuation system, which facilitates the transfer of patients who require hospitalization. Members of the Brazilian Armed Forces and partner agencies conduct the operation since 2018 to mitigate the suffering of the Venezuelan people who enter Brazil seeking support.
Eleven leaders from the Lima Group took part in the Bogotá meeting. Created in Lima, Peru in 2017, the group of countries of the Americas seeks to find solutions to the Venezuelan crisis. Pence and Guaidó, who is recognized by some 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president, joined the meeting.
In a statement, the Lima Group condemned “the deliberate actions of Nicolás Maduro’s illegitimate regime”. The group maintained their commitment for a peaceful transition to democratic rule and called on the International Criminal Court to consider “the grave humanitarian situation in Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro’s criminal actions against the civil population, and the denial of access to international assistance a crime against humanity.”
“These men worked to block aid for people in need and suppress peaceful protests; their actions will not go unpunished,” Pence said. “In the days ahead, the United States will announce even firmer sanctions on the regime’s corrupt financial networks.”