Update 2: True to his word, it appears the humanitarian aid trucks being sent from the west into Venezuela have been repelled by Maduro's guards as reports come in from social media that they are all now on fire.
Meanwhile, John Bolton is stirring the neocon pot...
Thousands of Venezuelans are peacefully gathering near La Carlota Air Base in Caracas, demanding the Venezuelan military support democracy & the delivery of humanitarian aid. A stream of military officials have decided to stand by the people & against Maduro throughout the day. pic.twitter.com/1zKQHBn6DL— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 23, 2019
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Update 1: President Maduro addressed the nation on state-owned television, urging his supporters to revolt if he is harmed and telling Trump "Yankee, go home!" Headlines from the speech include (via Bloomberg):
*VENEZUELA'S MADURO SAYS HE WILL HOLD POWER FOR MANY YEARS
*VENEZUELA'S MADURO SAYS HE'S NO 'PUPPET OF THE EMPIRE'
*VENEZUELA'S MADURO: TRUMP, DUQUE DON'T DECIDE FOR VENEZUELANS
*MADURO: VENEZUELANS ARE DEFEATING U.S. COUP ATTEMPT
*MADURO: GUAIDO SHOULD CALL ELECTIONS IF HE IS PRESIDENT
*MADURO: PROTESTERS INCITING VIOLENCE ARE GOING TO PRISON
*VENEZUELA'S MADURO SAYS HE WILL GUARANTEE SECURITY ON BORDER
*VENEZUELA'S MADURO: GOVT HAS PLANS FOR ALL POSSIBLE SCENARIOS
*VENEZUELA'S MADURO TELLS PRESIDENT TRUMP: 'YANKEE GO HOME'
*VENEZUELA MADURO CALLS ON SUPPORTERS TO REVOLT IF HE IS HARMED
*VENEZUELANS SHOULD RESOLVE OWN PROBLEMS, MADURO SAYS
*VENEZUELAN HUMANITARIAN AID SEEKS U.S. INVASION, MADURO SAYS
President Trump has been quiet so far on Twitter, offering just this earlier today:
God Bless the people of Venezuela!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 23, 2019
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As we detailed earlier, unrest in Venezuela is intensifying at border crossings with Colombia after embattled President Nicolas Maduro declared the borders with both Colombia and Brazil closed late this week, and after violence at a town near the border with Brazil left two dead and 17 injured when national guard soldiers opened fire on a group of civilians attempting to keep open a segment of the southern border with Brazil for deliveries of humanitarian aid.
VIDEO: Security forces use tear gas to disperse Venezuelan protesters gathered at the Venezuela-Colombia border pic.twitter.com/5qVZCQ7En7— AFP news agency (@AFP) February 23, 2019
On Saturday CNN crews filmed confrontations between protesters and Venezuela's National Guard at Ureña near Colombia over demands of workers to cross into the neighboring country to work.
"We want to work!" protesters chanted before being dispersed by tear gas and rubber bullets, after which the crowd hurled stones at the soldiers. Some among the crowed tried to dismantle a metal barrier blocking the Simon Bolivar international bridge, one of three major cross-border bridges near Urena, one of which has never been opened and was used by the US administration to claim Maduro had blockaded the country against outside aid.
VIDEO: Dozens of Venezuelan workers trying to enter Colombia are blocked by security forces, after Nicolas Maduro's government announced the closure of the border in western Tachira state pic.twitter.com/B4eTpukQOw— AFP news agency (@AFP) February 23, 2019
It's also at this location that three members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) defected to the Colombian side on Saturday morning, later confirmed by Colombian authorities, but condemned by Caracas as an act orchestrated and staged by the opposition.
#Breaking: The attackers got out of an armored vehicle and crossed the #border with weapons in their hands. Colombian authorities seemed to endorse this irregular behavior. A Venezuelan border police and a Chilean photographer were injured. #Venezuela #Colombia #HandsOffVenezuela pic.twitter.com/ZagAgTwXo7— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) February 23, 2019
Tensions appear to be coming to head this weekend as previously US-backed Juan Guaido promised to personally lead caravans to ensure aid is brought in from both Colombia and Brazil, in order to undermine and otherthrow the Maduro government.
Footage emerged on Saturday which appears to confirm that "Interim President" Guaido is present at the Tienditas International Bridge which connects Tachira, Venezuela with Norte de Santander, Colombia.
Guaido is vowing to break the border blockade by personally entering Venezuela with an aid convoy.
#BREAKING: Videos show the moment convoy of humanitarian aid led by opposition leader & interim president #JuanGuaido left the #Cucuta 50mins ago. Soon, the convoy will arrive at the border with #Venezuela. If the #Maduro's national guard fires at them, a war will start#23feb pic.twitter.com/HvxgrJIdvN— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) February 23, 2019
He's reportedly there with with Colombian president, Iván Duque and President of Chile, Sebastián Piñera — all of which are promising to facilitate the entry of aid.
#BREAKING: #Venezuela interim president, #JuanGuaidó together with #Colombia president, Iván Duque and President of #Chile, Sebastián Piñera arrived now at the international bridge Tienditas. One of the points where the humanitarian aid is going to enter #Venezuela.#23feb pic.twitter.com/FNNwt1E15F— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) February 23, 2019
Meanwhile as unrest at multiple border towns in Venezuela grows, Maduro called on Venezuelans to "mobilize" Saturday.
"Let's all take to the streets to defend our independence with conscience and joy," Maduro said via his official Twitter account.
This further comes a day after British billionaire Richard Branson sponsored a Live Aid-inspired show in Cucuta, Colombia, involving popular Latin American singers and appearances by the presidents of Colombia, Chile, and Paraguay.
Guaido himself also made a surprise appearance at the end of the concert in defiance of a ban on him leaving Venezuela.
Billionaire Richard Branson joined the musicians on stage for a finale of the concert he organized to raise funds for the US backed illegal regime change project in #Venezuela. Sadly it was pathetic hatchet job of #JohnLennon's Imagine. I imagine #LENNON rolling in his grave 😂 pic.twitter.com/g4m9LH5UM5— Walid (@walid970721) February 23, 2019
According to the AP, Guaido may have traveled across the border on a Colombian air force helicopter:
It’s not clear how Guaido sneaked into Colombia — in one video circulating on social media he appears running across a bridge near the Colombian town of Puerto Santander, while in another he could be seen boarding a helicopter belonging to the Colombian air force.
Last week, Guaido warned that Maduro had until February 23 to allow aid into the country, which in the US was echoed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who told Axios on Wednesday that Saturday could ultimately decide the fate of Maduro as the standoff over aid comes to a head, given the opposition is ready to force the issue in as visible way as possible.
The provocative actions to undermine Maduro's power have been acknowledged as just that by the opposition, who've recently openly stated that the "humanitarian channel" is a direct political jab at Caracas. Though the tons of much needed aid, including food and medicine supplies, is reportedly piling up along border points especially in Colombia, it's anything but merely "benevolent" - the opposition acknowledges.
Blocked by national guard, what was meant to be a peaceful protest in #Venezuela is turning increasingly violent. Masked protesters hijacked a government bus and set it a blaze trying to break the soldiers’ barricade. pic.twitter.com/i17ws0QEdD— Andy Rosati (@andrewrosati) February 23, 2019
"The impact of the humanitarian aid is highly political," Juan Miguel Matheus, an MP for the opposition told CNN earlier this week. "Our first and primary goal is to provide relief for the Venezuelan population, but after that, with this move we want to checkmate Maduro."
"If the aid gets in, Maduro is shown to have lost control of the situation; if it doesn't get in, we show that Maduro doesn't care for the suffering of the people," he added.
The spotlight also remains this weekend on Cucuta, where US aid shipments are being delivered via US Air Force planes and staged for delivery. Meanwhile national security adviser John Bolton has canceled a planned trip to South Korea to "focus on events in Venezuela."
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