Venezuela

Venezuelan military must make ‘the most important decision of their lives,’ Rubio says

Sen. Marco Rubio, in Colombia to tour an area where U.S. humanitarian aid has been sent to help Venezuelans, said Sunday that the Venezuelan armed forces are about to make “the most important” decision of their lives.

“The moment of truth is approaching, when they will have to decide whether they will issue orders to their soldiers that will not be obeyed, and that they themselves know are bad,” Rubio said in an interview with el Nuevo Herald. “And they will have to make the most important decision of their lives.”

The decision must come by Saturday, when Juan Guaidó, recognized as the interim president of Venezuela by the United States and nearly 60 other governments, has called for mass nationwide demonstrations to bring the assistance into Venezuela.

Three airplanes carrying food and other humanitarian assistance paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) took off Saturday from Miami-Dade County and landed in Cúcuta, on Colombia’s border with Venezuela. More flights are expected this week, as part of the U.S. response to Guaidó’s request for help.

Rubio and fellow Miami Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, as well as the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Carlos Trujillo, toured the warehoused assistance, a medical center for Venezuelan refugees in the city and the Tienditas bridge that links Colombia to Venezuela.

Guaidó’s supporters hope to bring the assistance into Venezuela through the bridge, now blocked on the Venezuelan side by an orange truck and a blue cargo container.

More assistance is waiting to arrive from the Brazilian state of Roraima. And a flotilla from the Caribbean island of Curacao will try to land along the shores of the state of Falcon.

Several celebrities and politicians will also participate in a music concert in Cúcuta to collect donations for Venezuelans and highlight their plight.

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Sen. Marco Rubio, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Trujillo visit a warehouse with humanitarian aid in Cúcuta. NORA GAMEZ TORRES ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

It’s a risky plan, with opponents of Venezuelan ruler Nicolás Maduro betting he will not be willing to pay the political costs of blocking the deliveries and cracking down on the opposition, at a time when the international community is focused on Venezuela.

USAID officials and Guaidó have ducked questions about whether they have a Plan B, in case military units loyal to Maduro manage to block the entry of the humanitarian aid on Saturday. And they avoid addressing the possibility of violent clashes if Maduro continues to block the entrance of the aid. He also has shown no readiness to surrender power, as Guaidó and his supporters demand.

“We do not expect that,” said Lester Toledo, Guaidó’s representative for the humanitarian aid effort, when asked about the possibility of violence.

“On Friday the 22nd there’s a big humanitarian concert. Important people from around the world have confirmed they will participate, precisely to send a message of peace,” Toledo said. “Our country’s soldiers know they have a historical opportunity and they will stand on the right side of history, on the side of the Venezuelan people.”

The Cuban and Russian governments, which support Maduro, have denounced the aid effort as an excuse to spark an intervention in Venezuela. Some U.S. politicians and analysts also have criticized the Trump administration for risking an outbreak of violence that could lead to a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.

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A truck blocks the bridge to Colombia on the Venezuelan side. ngameztorres@elnuevoherald.com

Rubio said the problem is not the risk, but the humanitarian and other crises that Venezuelans are suffering.

“Every day there’s violence in Venezuela. The Maduro regime jails and kills people, arrests members of its own government. But the worst violence is that people are dying of hunger,” he said. “We have to decide: Do we or do we not want the people of Venezuela to have medicines and food? And if that’s what we want, we have to try. And if the criminal (Maduro) regime tries to block it, the world will see its true nature and will take it into account for the next steps.”

If Maduro and his senior military supporters order a violent repression of the effort to bring in the assistance, it will be committing “a crime against humanity” that has no statute of limitations, Díaz-Balart told el Nuevo Herald. “Those who commit those crimes will have to hide for their rest of their lives.”

U.S. government officials at the same time are trying to persuade senior Venezuelan security force officers to refuse to obey Maduro’s orders. Rubio has posted several Twitter messages repeating Guaidó’s offer of amnesty to officers who endorse him and his offer of new and free presidential elections.

The U.S. Treasury Department has also slapped tough sanctions on top armed forces, intelligence and police officers. And Rubio said some are signaling that they may be ready to break with Maduro.

“When you see some of these high-ranking officers sending their families to live in other countries, that tells you something about the future of Venezuela,” he said.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

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