Venezuelan soldiers defect as troops fire tear gas at protesters

Venezuelan soldiers fired tear gas at angry protesters struggling to cross into Colombia on Saturday after President Nicolas Maduro closed the border to stop the opposition bringing U.S. humanitarian aid to the South American nation.

Demonstrators set up barricades and burned tires in the Venezuelan border town of Urena, as attention turned to if National Guard troops stationed in the border crossing would meet Maduro’s orders to obstruct humanitarian aid from reaching a sick and hungry population.

Four National Guard troops at the frontier disavowed Maduro’s socialist government on Saturday, after an appeal from Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to let aid through.

A social networking video showed the troops driving armored vehicles across a bridge linking the two countries, knocking metal barricades in the procedure, and then leaping from the vehicles and operating into the other side.

“Among the troops, whether they are in the military, air force, navy or National Guard, a lot of men and women disagree (with what’s happening),” one of those soldiers, an officer whose uniform transported the title Linarez, told reporters afterwards entering Colombia, according to a different video on social networking. “You can not say anything against the authorities. It is treason.”

Colombia’s migration authority affirmed the defection of those four Venezuelan soldiers. Critics of Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party call the aid effort a veiled invasion backed by Washington, and insist that the United States should help Venezuela by lifting unsuccessful financial and oil industry sanctions.

Venezuela’s opposition states that while the demand for basic food and drugs is dire, the help performance is also meant to embarrass military officers who continue to support Maduro’s increasingly isolated authorities.

Demonstrators at Urena who blocked roads and burned tires drove rocks at security forces who responded with volleys of tear gas.

The troops had earlier blocked individuals from crossing the border into Cucuta, where several Venezuelans now work, shop or send their children to college amid Venezuela’s continuing economic collapse.

Guaido, recognized by the majority of Western countries as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, defied court orders to not leave the nation when he traveled on Friday to Cucuta, where support from the U.S. and Colombian governments is stockpiled in warehouses.

Guaido was due to hold a news conference with the presidents of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay in Cucuta on Saturday morning before escorting the aid toward the border.

A line of heavy trucks packed with aid supplies waited to attempt the crossing, in front of rows of television cameras.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton continued plans to travel to South Korea to prepare for a summit addressing North Korea’s nuclear program so as to concentrate instead on events in Venezuela, his spokesman said on Friday.

“To Maduro’s army cronies attacking civilians in the border – the world is watching and the perpetrators will face prosecution,” Bolton wrote on Twitter. “The Venezuelan military should protect civilians, not take them.

Guaido, 35, head of the opposition-run Congress, has provided few details on the transport plan. Trucks are predicted to be driven by Venezuelan volunteers along with some opposition figures have indicated forming human chains.

Maduro blames the nation’s dire situation on U.S. sanctions who have blocked the country from accessing financing and have hobbled the OPEC nation’s oil market.

Concerns about the possibility of violence flared on Friday when the Venezuelan army opened fire at a village near the Brazilian border following indigenous leaders attempted to keep them from progressing, killing a woman and her husband.

Venezuelan troops on Saturday morning had blocked the Brazilian border despite protests by villagers in the nearby town of Santa Elena de Uairen who burnt a bus, a truck and a National Guard office overnight. “The situation is very important and we ought to be all united to enable the aid to pass,” said shopkeeper Jeremy Ortega, 21.

Brazil sent two little trucks with food and medicine to the boundary on Saturday, after the border closure foiled its strategy to get greater Venezuelans to drive vehicles to pick up the 200 tonnes of aid it has stockpiled in the northern town of Boa Vista.

Nearly 200,000 people attended a benefit concert at Cucuta on Friday comprising Latin pop stars, including Luis Fonsi of”Despacito” fame, many of whom predicted on Maduro to step down.

A rival concert held from the ruling Socialist Party on the Venezuelan side was sparsely attended. Guaido in January invoked articles of the constitution to assume the presidency and denounced Maduro as a usurper, arguing his 2018 re-election was fictitious.