The ongoing struggle between Venezuela’s authoritarian government, the opposition and the international community reached dramatic new heights over the weekend.
Attempts to bring foreign humanitarian aid into the country — against the wishes of embattled president Nicolás Maduro — led to bloody clashes between civilians and the military. Three trucks carrying food and medicine were burned. Dozens of soldiers defected from the government-loyal armed forces. Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader recognized by most Western democracies as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president, signaled he would be open to the U.S. using force to remove Maduro; U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is now headed to Colombia to speak with Guaidó.
Here’s everything you might have missed in Venezuela this weekend.
Maduro closed Venezuela’s borders
Guaidó had promised in early February that humanitarian aid, sent by the U.S. and other countries to help with Venezuela’s lack of food and medicine, would get into the country “one way or another, by February 23.” In anticipation of that Saturday deadline, Maduro had sent soldiers to block key crossings with Colombia, closed the border with Brazil, and banned maritime crossings to the Caribbean island of Curação, where aid was being stored.
At around 6.30 am local time Friday, soldiers opened fire on civilians who tried to reopen the Brazilian border to get supplies in, killing two and injuring 12.
Guaidó’s opposition movement and Maduro held rival concerts
On Friday and Saturday, British billionaire Richard Branson hosted a massive pop concert near the Tienditas bridge between Venezuela and the Colombian border city of Cúcuta. More than 300,000 people attended the concert, called Venezuela Aid Live, which aimed to raise money for more aid and featured popular acts from Latin America, including Luis Fonsi. On Friday, Guaidó made an appearance on stage, despite being banned from traveling by the Maduro regime. The Presidents of Chile, Colombia and Paraguay also attended.
Maduro held his own concert near the bridge on the other side of the border, a three-day event under the banner Hands of Venezuela.
Violent clashes broke out as the military blocked off aid
One truck carrying aid managed to pierce Maduro’s blockade Saturday morning, getting through from the town of Pacaraima in northern Brazil shortly before 11 a.m. But later, four people died at the Brazilian border as protesters faced off with pro-government militia groups.
All told, 285 people were injured and 37 hospitalized in the violence, according to The Washington Post.
In Colombia, groups of volunteers attempting to deliver aid were met with fierce opposition at several different bridges between the two countries. Local media reported that at one bridge, security forces fired bombs at the trucks carrying supplies, setting three of them alight.
Security forces deployed tear gas on protesters at points along the border, including in the Venezuelan border town of Ureña, where civilians tried to storm a foot bridge to Colombia.
A ship carrying 200 tons of aid from Puerto Rico was forced to turn back when the Venezuelan army threatened to open fire, the governor of the island said.
More than 100 Venezuelan soldiers defected
More than 100 members of Venezuela’s armed forces defected during the clashes on Saturday, according to the BBC. Guaidó, who put the number at 160, said the defectors would be given amnesty and congratulated them on joining “the right side of history.”
Maduro cut off diplomatic ties with Colombia
In a televised address from Caracas on Saturday afternoon, Maduro announced he was breaking off diplomatic relations with Colombia, whose President, Iván Duque, helped coordinate aid efforts. Maduro ordered Colombian diplomatic personnel to leave the country within 24 hours and denounced the Venezuelan opposition as “traitors.”
Guaidó signals openness to new kinds of intervention
After a day of violence Saturday, Guaidó said on Twitter: “Today’s events force me to make a decision to formally propose to the international community that we must have all options open to secure the freedom our country.”
The statement could imply that the opposition would accept foreign military intervention in Venezuela, a move that both Guaidó and U.S. President Donald Trump have refused to rule out.
The Spanish government was among those who quickly warned the U.S. and Guaidó off military action. “Not every option is on the table. We have clearly warned that we would not support — and would roundly condemn — any foreign military intervention,” the Spanish foreign minister told local media Sunday. The history of Western military intervention in Latin America complicates the political calculus behind any such action in Venezuela.
Guaidó flew to the Colombian capital of Bogotá on Sunday for a Monday meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and the Lima Group, a collection of mostly Latin American countries set up to address the Venezuela crisis. A U.S. official told Reuters that Pence would soon announce “concrete steps” on the issue.