Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has announced the first shipment of humanitarian aid has arrived in Venezuela from its southern border with Brazil.
“This is a great achievement, Venezuela!” Guaido said in a tweet Saturday.
A U.S. State Department official traveling with the aid convoy told VOA the shipment of food and medicine from both the U.S. and the Brazilian governments had been stored at a military base in Bao Vista, Brazil.
Aid was also en route from Colombia, where clashes took place Saturday between Venezuelan National Guard troops and residents who were clearing a bridge so aid trucks from Columbia could enter the country.
Despite the nation’s rampant inflation and food shortages, embattled president Nicolas Maduro has rejected offers of aid from other countries, saying his countrymen are not beggars.
But Guaido, who has declared himself interim president, vowed to see that the donated supplies piled into warehouses at Venezuelan border crossings are allowed into the country. Throngs of people who camped out overnight to help with the deliveries.
Reuters, citing Colombia’s migration agency, reported three Venezuelan National Guard members deserted their posts early Saturday before the effort to bring aid into Venezuela began. The opposition and countries supporting the aid caravan have been urging the Venezuelan military to defy Maduro’s orders block shipments of aid.
On Friday, at least two civilians died in Venezuela and about a dozen more were injured in a confrontation with security forces near the national border with Brazil.
Reports say the incident took place in the Gran Sabana region, along Venezuela’s southeast border with Brazil, home to the Pemon indigenous group.
Witnesses say people there were protesting Maduro’s efforts to keep humanitarian aid out of the country.
The White House said in a statement late Friday that the U.S. “strongly condemns the Venezuelan military’s use of force against unarmed civilians and innocent volunteers on Venezuela’s border with Brazil.” The statement also said: “Egregious violation of human rights by Maduro and those who are following his orders will not go unpunished.”
A local official told the Associated Press that members of the Pemon ethnic group clashed with the Venezuelan National Guard and the army as security forces moved tanks to the border with Brazil.
Witnesses say the security forces used tear gas and bullets while the demonstrators fought back with arrows and rocks.
One day before the standoff, Guaido defied a government ban to leave Venezuela and attended the “Venezuela Live Aid” concert, which was arranged by British billionaire Richard Branson in Colombia to raise funds for the relief campaign.
Guaido claimed at the concert he arrived in Colombia with the help of the Venezuelan military, whose most senior officers have repeatedly declared absolute loyalty to Maduro.
As head of the opposition-led National Assembly, Guaido invoked the constitution to declare himself interim president after saying Maduro’s reelection last year was a sham.
The U.S. was the first to recognize Guaido as president, followed by about 50 other nations.
Maduro has offered to meet with Guaido, but is refusing to step down or call for early elections.
The collapse in global energy prices, corruption and failed socialist policies have left oil-rich Venezuela’s economy in shambles.
More than 3 million people have fled the country’s political and economic crisis since 2015.