By Sinikka Tarvainen (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES – Venezuelans around the country took to the streets on Tuesday hoping to turn up the heat on beleaguered President Nicolas Maduro and persuade the army to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid blocked behind the Colombian border.
Protest rallies were reported in several parts of Caracas, with anti-riot police preventing the departure of at least one group of demonstrators, according to the daily El Nacional.
Protests were planned in half a dozen states around the country.
“At age 86, I shall continue fighting on the streets until the dictatorship falls,” one demonstrator told local media in northern Zulia state.
The protests, which were taking place on the country’s Youth Day, had been called by self-declared acting president Juan Guaido, whose ability to mobilize the aid is seen as a key test in his power struggle with 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, and a fresh poll.
Food, medicine and hygiene products sent by the United States are stuck in the Colombian border city of Cucuta after Venezuela blocked the Tienditas border bridge.
The opposition is also making arrangements for more aid to be sent through Brazil and Puerto Rico.
“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 per cent 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 US sanctions.
In an interview with the BBC published on Tuesday, the president vowed not to allow the entry of aid. He said it was only a way of justifying a military intervention by US President Donald Trump’s administration, which he slammed as a “gang of extremists.”
The army is seen as a crucial player in the stand-off between Maduro and Guaido. It has so far sided with the president but is believed to be divided.
Guaido on Monday dismissed the possibility of a civil war in Venezuela, claiming Maduro could not count on the army and “90 per cent of the people want change.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was visiting Colombia, said in the city of Cartagena that Venezuela was on the verge of bankruptcy and that the supply situation of the population was “dramatically bad.”
The election of a new president “on a credible, legitimate basis” would give Venezuelans hope of a better future, Steinmeier said late Monday.