CARACAS – Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido stepped up efforts Wednesday to win recognition from EU holdout states and insisted the armed forces allow desperately needed humanitarian aid to enter the country.
“Today we talked with representatives of the EU to consolidate their support for the democratic transition,” Guaido said, adding that he would send a delegation to holdout state Italy to present his “action plan to relaunch democracy.
The National Assembly leader has been recognized by more than 40 countries since declaring himself interim president on Jan. 23 in defiance of President Nicolas Maduro.
However, several countries, including Italy and Greece, have so far blocked an EU bid for tougher action against Maduro’s socialist regime.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, demanded Venezuela’s military allow aid into the country.
“The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE,” Pompeo tweeted.
In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was doubling its resources to cope with the crisis, where food and medicine shortages have pushed 2.3 million people to flee since 2015.
“Our focus is really to, on the one side increase our response to Venezuelans, and on the other hand to keep away from the political controversy and political divisions which are characteristic to the crisis in Venezuela,” ICRC chief Peter Maurer said.
Maduro, who is supported by Russia, China, Turkey, Cuba and Iran, has refused all humanitarian aid shipments to Venezuela, which he says would open the way to allow a U.S. military invasion.
Key to the delivery of humanitarian aid is Venezuela’s armed forces, which remain loyal to the socialist leader.
Late Tuesday, the army blocked a road on the Colombian border near where U.S. humanitarian aid is being stockpiled.
Troops used a tanker truck and huge shipping container to block access to the Tienditas bridge, which links Cucuta, Colombia, to Urena, Venezuela.
Venezuela’s army “have an important responsibility — whether to continue on the side of a dictatorship that does not have an iota of humanity, or to side with the consititution,” Guaido said in an interview on Colombian radio.
He claims that up to 300,000 people face death if the aid is not delivered.
Maduro dismissed the need for aid on Wednesday as a “political show.”
“Imperialism does not help anyone in the world,” he told Russia Today.
Maduro, 56, has repeatedly accused the United States of fomenting a coup. And on Wednesday he called for the collection of 10 million signatures against what he called “Trump’s interventionist action.”
The U.S., which has not ruled out military intervention in crisis-wracked Venezuela, was the first to recognize his rival as acting president, followed by a dozen Latin American countries.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Donald Trump reaffirmed U.S. support for Guaido, saying “we stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom.”
Latin American and EU states have formed a “Contact Group” on Venezuela which will meet in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo on Thursday.
Guaido is trying to force Maduro from power, set up a transitional government and hold a new presidential poll.
He has claimed legitimacy from the constitution as National Assembly leader, on the grounds that Maduro’s re-election last May, boycotted by most the opposition, was “illegitimate.
Russia, a key ally of Maduro, has slammed what it called interference in the oil-rich but now poor Latin American country, saying it was an attempt to “legitimize usurped power.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of trying to “topple the government by violence and ruse,” while berating the U.S. for treating Venezuela like “one of your states.”
Guaido has nevertheless ramped up pressure on the regime with a series of mass protests, the next of which is scheduled for Feb. 12.
His fledgling alternative administration will hold talks in Washington Feb. 14 on responding to “the largest hemispheric humanitarian crisis in modern history.”
Maduro disclosed Monday that he sent Pope Francis a letter seeking help in mediating the country’s crisis. The pope told journalists Tuesday that this would require agreement from both the government and the opposition.
Eurasia Group analysts say the humanitarian crisis “represents a lose-lose gambit for Maduro” who will either have to allow the goods to enter the country, further bolstering Guaido, or force the military to block their entry, risking a backlash in the streets.
Eurasia said US oil sanctions are “set to have a broad impact” with the government facing “the prospect of running out of gasoline, which could serve as another social catalyst.”