A convoy of trucks reportedly carrying food and medicine was greeted with tear gas and a physical blockade along the bridge linking Colombia and with the Venezuelan town of Urena on Saturday.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded with interventionist escalation, telling Fox News Sunday viewers that “every option is on the table” in response to a direct question about a potential U.S. military incursion on behalf of Juan Guaidó, leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, who declared himself president last month and promptly received backing from President Donald Trump.
The international convoys attempted to cross the border in two different locations on Friday and Saturday. Along the Simón Bolívar Bridge between Venezuela and Colombia, two trucks caught fire after soldiers fired tear gas at their convoy. In Ureña, on the Venezuela side of the bridge, citizens clashed with soldiers, who reportedly killed two civilians in the violence.
A similar, separate attempt to move materials into the country from Brazil generated physical violence in a second location Friday. The new, U.S.-friendly government of proto-fascist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ran into similar physical barriers at the crossing from the Brazilian city of Pacaraima to the Venezuelan border town of Santa Elena de Uairén. Venezuelans who came out to meet a promised food convoy threw rocks at the soldiers who blocked them, and the soldiers shot at them in response. Two were killed and more than a dozen injured.
The aid push from Pacaraima looked quite different on the ground from the way it has been characterized in press releases from either government, Bloomberg’s Samy Adghirni told the BBC on Saturday.
“Let’s be clear, what the Brazilian and American governments are calling aid shipments to Venezuela are actually two very small trucks,” Adghirni said on the BBC’s Newshour broadcast. “There was talk about 200 tons of aid, and this is clearly not the case.”
The question of what exactly is in the trucks that were pushed back by Venezuelan soldiers looms large.
The push to cross the physical border with goods plays out under large, heavy clouds of history. Latin Americans of all nationalities and political persuasions have grown up steeped in memories of dozens of coup attempts, political subversions, arms shipments, and other interventions in local sovereignty from U.S. governments over more than a century.
Despite that history, Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Saturday that the real puppeteers Venezuelans should worry about today are President Nicolas Maduro’s supporters in Cuba:
Cuban agents are directing attacks on the people of #Venezuela on behalf of Maduro. The Venezuelan military should do its duty, protect the country’s citizens, and prevent the Havana puppeteers from starving hungry children. #EstamosUnidosVE
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) February 24, 2019
Cold War and economic imperialist history would color U.S. involvement in Venezuela’s deteriorated civil society and collapsed economy no matter who was in charge in Washington and no matter what steps they took. But the Trump administration has made choices that openly push those regional buttons.
The White House chose to formally recognize Guaidó’s claim that he is now president, giving the U.S. diplomatic community’s preference that Maduro step down all the force and rigidity of official policy. That uncommon step was widely criticized as an accelerationist act of interference at the time.
Just a few days later, Trump hired Elliott Abrams to a specialized position working on the Venezuela crisis. Abrams spent much of the 1970s and 1980s engineering the very same coups and interferences that leave lingering suspicion and anger toward U.S. actors in the region still today. His presence in headlines and in policymaking would have only exacerbated a sense of defiance and solidarity among whatever share of the Venezuelan populace remains willing to support Maduro after years of privation under his policies.
Shortly after that personnel move, Maduro announced that a plane full of rifles had been seized at an airport, saying that the plane had arrived from the U.S. and portraying the weapons shipment as evidence of the same old-school imperialism.
The international aid shipments now seeking to cross Maduro’s border barricades are naturally complicated by these recent reifications of old historical patterns.
Guaidó has openly called on soldiers to defy Maduro’s orders and help the aid trucks through. Some did this weekend, though the scope of the defections ranges wildly from one international news dispatch to another – from as few as three soldiers to as many as 60.
The army as a whole has so far remained loyal to the elected president against the one now recognized by the U.S. and other powers. It is the sort of loyalty, however that has often shattered in similar civil conflicts throughout modern history, against the backdrop of being ordered to fire live rounds at hungry countrymen.