CUCUTA, Colombia – Hundreds of Venezuelans filled Santander Park in Cucuta, Colombia on Tuesday to demand that Nicolas Maduro’s regime allow humanitarian aid into the country.
Juan Guaido, the head of the Venezuelan parliament and interim president, announced on Tuesday that he expects humanitarian aid to enter the country on Feb. 23, despite opposition from leftist incumbent Nicolas Maduro, whom he does not recognize as legitimate.
With soccer-team shirts, flags and posters critical of Maduro’s regime, the demonstrators said that the day announced by Guaido will be “historic,” because the moment the first aid box enters – expected to be across the Tienditas bridge – “the dictatorship is down.”
“All Venezuela is going to Tienditas... if it is necessary to make a human corridor to pass humanitarian aid (through), we are going to do it,” said Cecilia Mendoza, a Venezuelan teacher who now works as a waitress in a restaurant in Cucuta, a border city and capital of the department of North Santander.
Aid sent by the United States is stored on the Colombian side of the Tienditas bridge connecting Cucuta with the Venezuelan city of Ureña.
This bridge, the third between North Santander and the state of Tachira, was completed in early 2016 as part of a Colombian-Venezuelan integration plan, but was never put into service because months before, in the second half of 2015, the Maduro regime closed its border with Colombia.
In Tuesday’s demonstration, encouraged by Guaido’s words, Venezuelans in Cucuta sang their national anthem and didn’t spare criticism of Maduro and his Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAP) program, in which communities supply and distribute food themselves.
There have been allegations that only Maduro supporters have been given food, and critics have been denied access, with a local human rights group describing the program as a form of discrimination fuelling social unrest.
“I don’t want a bonus, I don’t want CLAP – what I want is for Nicolas to leave,” chanted the crowd, who then cried out “freedom, freedom, freedom.”
Guaido said on Tuesday in Caracas that next weekend there will be assemblies, town hall meetings, and “humanitarian camps” to organize and prepare volunteers seeking humanitarian aid at the borders in case the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela does not allow it entry.
“If he said that, it will be because the Venezuelan people are going to support him (...) Venezuela needs that humanitarian aid and all these people who are in Cucuta are going to support this humanitarian aid and we are going to make it happen,” said Antonio Sanabria, another Venezuelan attending the rally.
Hours before this sit-in, Venezuelans also demonstrated across the border in the cities of San Antonio and Ureña, both in Tachira.