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Duelling concerts to support or denounce humanitarian aid in Venezuela

RAUL ARBOLEDA / AFP | People wait for the start of "Venezuela Aid Live" concert, organised by Britain's Richard Branson to raise money for the Venezuelan relief effort at Tienditas International Bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, on February 22, 2019.

Venezuela’s political tug-of-war morphed into a battle of the bands on Friday, with duelling government and opposition pop concerts ahead of a weekend showdown over the entry of badly needed food and medical aid.

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An aid concert attended by thousands of people got underway Friday on the Venezuelan-Colombian border in defiance of a blockade by the government of President Nicolas Maduro .

“We must break the impasse, end the humanitarian crisis,” British entrepreneur Richard Branson, who organized the event, told the crowd shortly before Venezuelan crooner Jose Luis Rodriguez began his set.

The spectacle took place at opposite ends of a 300-metre bridge connecting Venezuela with Colombia to the west. This bridge, called the Tienditas, is one of the conduits that opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido wants to use to bring in humanitarian assistance to his economically crippled country.

The bridge is now blocked with freight containers left there by the military, with Maduro refusing to let aid in and arguing it would be the first step toward a foreign invasion.

The opposition charity concert, called “Venezuela Aid Live”, is being held in the Colombian border town of Cucuta.

The stated goal is to raise $100 million in donations. Big stars from the Spanish-speaking world are scheduled to perform, and the presidents of Colombia, Chile and Paraguay have said they will attend.

Maduro's official show

The government has not said who will perform on the Venezuela end of the bridge. That concert’s slogan is “Hands Off Venezuela”.

“All the artists that are going to sing in Colombia must know that they are committing a crime. They are endorsing a military intervention,” said Maduro.

On Thursday he ordered the closure of Venezuela’s border with Brazil – one of the main potential avenues for aid delivery – as part of the power struggle with Guaido over bringing in aid.

Maduro said he was considering closing the border with Colombia, too.

>> Read more: Venezuelan soldiers kill two in clash over aid on Brazilian border

Russia on Friday accused the United States of using aid deliveries to Venezuela as a ploy to carry out military action against Maduro’s government.

Accusing Washington of a “dangerous provocation”, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said opposition leader Juan Guaido’s efforts to pick up US aid being stockpiled on the Colombian border were “a convenient pretext for conducting military action”.

Guaido set out in a convoy of vehicles to personally pick up US aid being stockpiled on the other side of the Colombian border, defying Maduro's military to stop him.

Recognised as interim president by more than 50 countries, he left the capital Caracas for the Colombian border in a convoy of several vehicles for the 900km trip.

Embattled Maduro has dismissed Guaido's humanitarian caravan as a "cheap show" and slammed aid as a precursor for a US military intervention in the oil-rich but crippled Latin American country.

A separate caravan of buses and trucks containing opposition lawmakers had earlier left eastern Caracas bound for the border.

FRANCE 24's Ana Herrero: the aid 'is not likely to be delivered this Saturday'

Guaido scored important symbolic boosts Thursday as 11 Venezuelan diplomats based in the US declared their support for him.

Hugo Carvajal, a retired general and former military intelligence chief to Hugo Chavez, also recognised the opposition leader and called upon the armed forces to break from Maduro.

Meanwhile, Maduro – mirroring Guaido's move in an attempt to show his socialist government was able to look after its people – ordered a shipment of thousands of food boxes to be distributed to the needy along the Colombian border.

He also announced on Thursday the arrival of another 7.5 tons of medicine and medical supplies from Russia.

Shipments of food and medicine for the crisis-stricken population have become a key focus of the power struggle between Maduro and Guaido.

Guaido, who says 300,000 people could die without an influx of aid, says he aims to rally a million volunteers to start bringing it in by Saturday.

It remained unclear how he proposed to do so if the blockade continues, but experts have pointed to the notoriously porous 2,200km border, which is perforated by well-worn drug trafficking and contraband routes.

Entry points for aid

Guaido said the planned entry points for aid were the Brazilian and Colombian borders, the island of Curacao and the seaports of Puerto Cabello and La Guaira.

Venezuela's Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said the government was shutting down air and sea links between Curacao and Venezuela.

However Carlos Faria, one of the leaders of a group of Venezuelans organising aid shipments via Curacao, told AFP a plane carrying 50 tons of food and medicine was expected from Miami on Thursday and would be loaded onto a Venezuela-bound ship on Friday.

Meanwhile, the White House said Vice President Mike Pence would visit neighbouring Colombia on Monday in a show of support for Guaido.

The US has repeatedly said "all options", including the military, are on the table.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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