Venezuela closes key maritime, air borders with neighbors

Move comes amid growing aid crisis

By CLARA LOPEZ CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.

(CNN) - Venezuela has shut a key maritime border and grounded flights as the opposition party seeks to import foreign aid to the crisis-hit South American country.

A government representative confirmed Venezuela has closed its maritime border with Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire and, in the Western state of Falcon, prevented flights leaving from or departing to those islands.

Vice Admiral Vladimir Quintero, a military general from embattled President Nicolas Maduro's government, said that there was no date set for lifting the closures, according to the representative.

Maduro has so far refused to allow aid trucks into Venezuela from neighboring countries, which have formally recognized the government of the self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido.

Despite being an oil-rich country, the Venezuelan economy has suffered from years of mismanagement.

The crisis has left people from all walks of life struggling for food, basic living essentials and medicine.

More than three million Venezuelans have left their homes, with a million emigrating to neighboring Colombia, UNHCR said in November.

Maduro maintains his country does not need aid and has barricaded bridges in an attempt to block it.

The government of Brazil held a meeting Tuesday to "define logistics" on providing aid to the Venezuelan people, presidential spokesman Otavio Rego Barros said in a press conference. The aid, which includes food and medicine, is anticipated to begin flowing February 23, he said.

The operation will be conducted in "cooperation" with the US government, he added.

In an apparent retort to international efforts to send food to hungry Venezuelans, communications minister Jorge Rodriguez claimed Monday that Caracas will send food to feed hungry Colombian children, even as citizens in his country struggle with food shortages at home.

Allies circle wagons

Maduro's allies have come to his defense in the face of increasing pressure from the US and its regional allies.

Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, held a press conference in Havana on Tuesday where he decried what he termed as US intervention in the socialist state.

"The government of the US has invented, fabricated in Washington an imperialist coup," he said, echoing the sentiments embattled Maduro communicated during a televised meeting Monday night.

He added that the attempted change of power had not worked, referring to US President Donald Trump's support of Guaido.

On Monday, Trump held a rally in Miami where he called Maduro a "Cuban puppet" and claimed that Cuba had troops in Venezuela defending the socialist leader.

"The accusation by the US President that Cuba maintains a private army in Venezuela is despicable. I demand that you present evidence. Our government rejects that slander in the strongest and most categorical terms," said Rodriguez.

Fiery rhetoric

Venezuela's defense minister, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, reiterated the country's military support for Maduro, while also criticizing Trump.

"We are going to defend our country, we will defend it, we will resist, because good always overcomes evil, we are going to prevail," he said in a speech broadcast on Venezuela's government broadcaster VTV.

He said that the country's armed forces had watched Trump's speech on Venezuela during the Miami rally, and called his criticism of Venezuela "arrogant," adding that it condoned terrorism, adding that the US leader could not "give orders to the men and women of the Venezuelan armed forces."

Flanked by other high-ranking military officials, Padrino Lopez also referred to Guaido.

"We say the same to those that want to be president, they cannot break our patriotic spirit by force to install an anti-patriotic puppet. They will have to go over our dead bodies."

Padrino Lopez ended his speech by saying that Venezuela's armed forces will be always stationed along the country's borders to prevent any possible territorial violations.

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