Opposition supporters clashed with Venezuelan police on Saturday in the border city of Urena after attempting to clear a bridge connecting the country to Colombia. It’s part of a tense standoff over delivery of American ‘aid.’
Local TV broadcasts showed an apparent attempt by some civilians to dismantle a metal barrier, which prevents travel across the Simon Bolivar international bridge, which is located some 10km south of the Venezuelan town.
There are three cross-border bridges near Urena, including the one made internationally famous earlier this month by the US administration, which claimed it was shut down to prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid to Venezuela – despite the connection never being open to traffic.
In a separate incident in the morning, three members of Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) were reported to have defected to the Colombian side after driving their vehicle towards a security cordon on the Simon Bolivar bridge. TeleSUR, a pro-government news channel, said the defection had been organized 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#HandsOffVenezuelapic.twitter.com/ZagAgTwXo7— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) February 23, 2019
There was also at least one incident in which Venezuelan security forces used tear gas against people trying to cross over into Colombia, according to footage from the scene. Opposition supporters also claimed that tear gas was used to prevent the delivery of humanitarian aid from Colombia, but it was not immediately clear if this referred to the same incident.
The sporadic flare-ups occurred on the day that opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido promised to begin moving shipments of humanitarian aid into crisis-stricken Venezuela after the expiry of a deadline that he set. The shipment was provided by the US, which considers Guaido to be the legitimate head of Venezuela, and the elected President Nicolas Maduro to be a usurper.
The Maduro government sees the planned delivery as a PR stunt and possibly a cover to deliver weapons intended to arm opposition fighters supporting Guaido.
On Saturday, the Venezuelan military deployed additional troops at the border with Colombia, boosting existing forces in apparent preparation for a possible escalation of the situation.