On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence met with Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido in Bogotá, Colombia to discuss how to oust embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Maduro still has control over the presidential palace and Venezuela’s military, and he’s denied entry to U.S. humanitarian aid convoys, claiming they’re part of a political ploy.
Dylan Baddour is a freelance journalist based in Colombia who’s been covering the conflict for The Washington Post and The Atlantic. He says Venezuelans desperately need the aid, but that Maduro is also right to believe the U.S. has ulterior motives.
“Real humanitarians would do this in a quiet sense, trying to stir up as little trouble as possible,” Baddour says. “This aid was supposed to go to feed people but its main objective here by the opposition … and their American backers … was to initiate a confrontation at the border using these aid trucks.”
The idea was to challenge Maduro and those guarding the border who answer to him.
“Many opposition leaders said this would draw out defectors and the border guard would let it in because they would think of their own hungry families,” Baddour says.
He says the challenge did draw about 300 defectors, but it wasn’t the mass defection the opposition had hoped for.
Baddour says two trucks carrying aid were set on fire when they were brought to the border, and one truck that wasn’t burned went back to a warehouse in Columbia.
The United States has a long history of trying to influence Latin American politics, including backing coups and counterrevolutionary groups. In the case of Venezuela, Baddour says there’s no evidence yet that the defectors have a relationship with the U.S. But he says it’s no secret that the U.S. wants Maduro out. Over the past several weeks, Baddour says U.S. officials like its ambassador to Colombia, Sen. Marco Rubio, the director of U.S. Agency for International Development have held press conferences in the region, in addition to Pence’s visit.
“They said, ‘Maduro has to go,’ ‘Tyrants don’t go easily,’ things like that,” Baddour says.
He says the border has become the “front line” for the opposition. He also says the political conflict between Maduro and the opposition and its backers will get more complex as time goes on, and that it’s likely defectors will start to align themselves directly with the opposition.
“It’s not clear if the defectors will be incorporated into that battle, but I would not be surprised at all if they were,” Baddour says.
Written by Caroline Covington.