0809 GMT August 19, 2019
The standoff between a local indigenous community and the military over aid delivery occurred Friday near the Venezuelan town of Gran Sabana, said its mayor, Emilio Gonzalez, CNN reported.
The mayor told CNN the military opened fire on an indigenous group trying to facilitate the passage of aid into Venezuela.
Gonzalez said soldiers shot and killed a 34-year-old indigenous Venezuelan woman and injured 17 others.
National Assembly member Americo De Grazia said on his official Twitter feed that two people had died. The second victim was an indigenous man, according to De Grazia.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself “acting president” last month, condemned the incident in a tweet Friday, saying such acts by the military “will not go unpunished.”
The United States, a dozen Latin American countries and Canada have recognized Guaido as interim president, while China and Russia have urged noninterference.
Tensions are running high at Venezuela’s borders amid opposition plans to usher aid into the country this weekend in defiance of President Nicolas Maduro’s wishes.
Maduro on Thursday ordered Venezuela’s border with Brazil to be shut and threatened to also close the border with Colombia as opposition leader Juan Guaido planned to get to the frontier to receive the US package.
Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also on Friday accused the United States and its NATO allies of discussing how to arm the opposition in Venezuela and said Washington was deploying Special Forces and equipment near the South American nation.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said a US humanitarian aid convoy for Venezuela could provoke clashes and create a pretext for removing Maduro from power by force.
Also China’s Foreign Ministry said the “so-called aid” should not be forced into Venezuela, lest it cause violence.
“If the so-called humanitarian assistance were forcefully sent to Venezuela it might trigger conflict and lead to serious consequences,” Reuters quoted China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang as saying on Friday.
“This is not what anyone wants to see. China is against a military intervention in Venezuela and against any behavior that might cause escalation or turmoil,” he told reporters.
The White House urged the Venezuelan military to allow aid into the country in a statement on Friday.
The violence came as dueling concerts kicked off on the country’s western border with Colombia, where aid deliveries from the United States have been languishing since Maduro blocked the Tienditas Bridge.
The US announced on Friday preparations to bring aid in through another route.
Guaido crosses border
Guaido claimed the military helped him defy a travel ban by the government as he joined thousands over the Colombian border on Friday for the charity concert to push for humanitarian aid deliveries, AFP reported.
He turned up unexpectedly at the concert in the Colombian border town of Cucuta, claiming “the armed forces participated in this process” to help him flout his travel ban.
Hours later, Caracas said it had sealed the Colombian border across the whole of Tachira – the western state that borders Cucuta – citing threats to Venezuela’s security.
According to a fact sheet from the US State Department, the aid consists of food kits “containing rice, beans, sugar, and salt to feed nearly 3,500 people for 10 days and additional rice to feed an estimated 6,100 people for one month.”
In an Associated Press interview on February 14, Maduro reiterated a refusal to allow humanitarian aid, calling boxes of US-donated food and pediatric supplies sitting in a warehouse on the border in Colombia mere “crumbs” after the US administration froze billions of dollars in the nation’s oil revenue and overseas assets.
“They hang us, steal our money, and then say, ‘here, grab these crumbs’ and make a global show out of it,” said Maduro.
He said US sanctions on the oil industry are to blame for mounting hardships.
The US sanctions effectively ban all oil purchases by the US, which had been Venezuela’s biggest oil buyer until now.
Venezuela is plunging deeper into political chaos triggered by the US demand that Maduro step down a month into a second presidential term that the US and its allies in Latin America consider illegitimate.
The escalating crisis is taking place against a backdrop of economic and social turmoil that has led to severe shortages of food and medicine.