CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela's president Nicolás Maduro is refusing to allow aid into the country, calling humanitarian supplies a "rotten gift" that will fill it with the “poison of humiliation.”
During an hour-how long press conference in the presidential palace in the Venezuelan capital, Maduro angrily denounced the US and warned the European Union not to “obey” Venezuela’s “extreme right.”
His comments come as the crisis in Venezuela continues to spiral, with at least 40 people killed during recent protests, according to human rights groups, and growing unrest in working-class neighborhoods that had until recently provided loyal support to the government.
According to USAID, the shipment to the city of Cúcuta, on the Colombian border, includes more than $20 million in food, including high-protein, high energy nutritional supplements, and medical kits. Maduro responded by sending trucks to block the highways connecting the two countries.
Maduro mocked his US counterpart, saying that the American government “steals money and then offers toilet paper." (President Donald Trump's actually threw paper towels into a crowd during his visit to post-hurricane Puerto Rico in Oct. 2017.) He described the aid package as "a cheap show” that would make Venezuelans look like street beggars.
The arrival of humanitarian aid at the Colombian border has become the latest flashpoint in Venezuela, which is suffering from crippling food shortages, and where inflation is expected to reach 10 million percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
On Wednesday, the United Nations warned against politicizing aid to Venezuela.
Tensions between Maduro and Trump’s administration have been growing. Last month, the US levied sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA in an attempt to cut the flow of foreign currency to Maduro’s government. Shortly after, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton appeared at a news conference clutching a yellow notebook where he had scribbled “5,000 troops to Colombia.”
Asked how his government would react to the possible arrival of troops on the Colombian border, Maduro said it was not his problem and suggested that women should remain alert because of possible “violations.”
The US “can bring two million soldiers” added Maduro. “Let them stay in Colombia.”
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that Hezbollah — the Iranian-backed militant group — has a presence in Venezuela. During Friday’s press conference, Maduro denied having any links with the Lebanese group.
Pompeo has “spearheaded the aggression against Venezuela since he was the director of the CIA,” said Maduro. “He lives to plot ways to hurt us.”
After a year of mostly quiet resignation in Venezuela, the opposition got a second wind with the unexpected rise of Juan Guaidó, a lawmaker who declared himself president last month, citing a “vacuum of power.” The US, most Latin American countries and many European ones have since recognized Guaido as interim president.
A fresh spate of protests broke out on January 23rd. For the first time since former president Hugo Chávez rose to power in 1999, revolutionary strongholds — mostly working-class neighborhoods — joined the protests, marking what many analysts have called a point of no return for Maduro’s government.
Maduro summed up his position by paraphrasing “a John Lennon song,” as he put it — “We just ask for an opportunity for peace.”
This is a “strange sequence of events,” said Maduro after a power outage at the conference room in Miraflores Palace, the president's official workplace, in the middle of his presentation. For nearly a minute, the room was left in darkness, Maduro’s microphone became inaudible and the TV screens went black.
Security agents, including one carrying a collapsible bulletproof shield, became agitated and a Maduro staffer asked photographers to put their cameras down during the outage.
"Someone fears our truth," Maduro said, while he waited for the power to be restored.