Guaidó arrives in Cúcuta as city prepares for the worst ahead of aid showdown

By Arjun Harindranath February 22, 2019
Venezuelan concert-goers look on at Venezuela Live Aid. Photo by Arjun Harindranath

Cúcuta is a city known for its military sieges, most notably when Bolivar’s victory wrested control over the city from the Spanish in 1813. After a day of fear and festivities, the city now braces for the next battle that lays ahead.

In a day reserved for a massive concert planned by billionaire Richard Branson at Tienditas International Bridge, the city itself was on high alert, preparing for the humanitarian aid showdown that lay ahead, whereby opposition leaders from Venezuela will attempt to form a human chain to bring vital supplies into the catastrophe-stricken country.

Colombian soldiers lined the major arterial highways leading to the Cúcuta’s major bridge to Venezuela, Simon Bolivar Bridge, as other institutions within the city like the main hospital in the city issued a “yellow alert” in anticipation of uncertain events tomorrow.

Moreover, the man at the center of the storm, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, arrived in the city this evening and will look to spearhead the movement towards bringing aid into Venezuela tomorrow. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has consistently claimed that the aid, which has been provided largely by the US, will not be permitted into Venezuela.

Thousands attended the concert which took place at the highly-publicised Tienditas bridge.
Photo by Arjun Harindranath

Unplanned and uncertain

The attempt to bring aid into Venezuela from Colombia, which has been spearheaded by Guaido, has been riddled with much misinformation and much remains unclear about the logistics of tomorrow. Many still remain unsure, for example, what time the marches will be.

Originally planned for  February 12, Guaidó’s movement to bring much needed humanitarian aid fizzled on this side of the border and the deadline was extended to February 23. Guaidó surprised many today by making a cameo at today’s concert. Speaking briefly at a press conference afterwards with Colombian President Iván Duque and Chilean President Sebastián Piñero, Guaidó  said “We have news for the world, we are going to resist. Venezuela’s republican values have survived and are here today in Colombia.”

Venezuela has seen hyperinflation of their currency since 2014, leading to an economic crisis unseen on the continent and unexpected of a country abundant in natural resources. Since the beginning of the crisis millions have gone without food and basic medicines, choosing to leave the country instead for other countries in the region. Colombia now has the lion’s share of the Venezuelan diaspora that has escaped the country’s economic crisis.

Despite much speculation and widespread reporting about Tienditas International Bridge, the border crossing will not be used as a means to ferry aid between the two countries. Tienditas bridge finished construction in 2016 but has never been used as vehicular access between the two countries had been cut off before that.

Instead, opposition forces said at a press conference earlier this week that the two pedestrian bridges, Simon Bolivar bridge and Francisco de Paula Santander bridge, will be the site of marches tomorrow where the protesters are urged to wear white.  The protesters tomorrow have also been advised by Guaidó to remain peaceful and not provoke members of the military.

Fear and festivities

One major concern for tomorrow will be the security situation during the marches. This morning, Reuters reported that violent clashes on the border between Brazil and Venezuela left two dead and 15 injured as armed forces opened fire on civilians looking to bring aid in. Maduro had closed the border between the two nations and has threatened to do the same to the border crossings between Colombia and Venezuela.

People we spoke to this morning feared the same repercussions in Cúcuta but many resolved to turn up tomorrow anyway. Some, however, remained fearful that an attack could take place and stated they would stay home tomorrow instead. The country has also recently seen attacks by the ELN, a guerrilla group with support of the Venezuelan government and a stronghold in the region, and this too plays into the minds of many wanting to attend the marches tomorrow.

Maluma performs at Venezuela Live Aid. Photo by Arjun Harindranath

However, there was cause for cautious optimism about tomorrow as well given that the Venezuela Live Aid concert–which saw cameos by superstars like Juanes, Maluma and Mana–passed by without any major incident. Tens of thousands of people walked great distances in the hot sun to attend the concert that had been organised by British billionaire Richard Branson.

As the curtain fell down on the day’s events, however, thoughts turned to what might occur  the next day. The sideshow is now over. Cúcuta now awaits uneasily as to what tomorrow might bring.