Venezuelan soldiers opened fire on indigenous people near the border with Brazil on Friday, killing two, as President Nicolas Maduro sought to block U.S.-backed efforts to bring aid into his economically devastated nation.
The United States, which is among dozens of nations to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, has been stockpiling aid in the Colombian frontier town of Cucuta to ship across the border this weekend.
With tensions running high after Guaido invoked the constitution to declare an interim presidency last month, Maduro has denied there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela despite widespread shortages of food and medicine and hyperinflation.
The socialist president, who took power in 2013 and was re-elected in an election last year widely viewed as fraudulent, has declared Venezuela’s southern border with Brazil closed ahead of the opposition’s plan to bring in the aid on Saturday. Late on Friday the government shuttered the Tachira frontier that connects with Cucuta.
Some political analysts say the looming showdown is less about solving Venezuela’s needs and more about testing the military’s loyalty to Maduro by daring it to turn the aid away.
With inflation running at more than 2 million percent a year and currency controls restricting imports of basic goods, a growing share of the country’s roughly 30 million people is suffering from malnutrition.
Guaido showed up late on Friday at a fundraising concert in Cucuta backed by British billionaire Richard Branson that was estimated to have attracted nearly 200,000 people.
His appearance, arm-in-arm with Colombian President Ivan Duque, was an open challenge to Maduro given that the pro-government Supreme Court has banned him from international travel on grounds he is under investigation for allegedly helping foreign countries to interfere in internal matters.