Let in aid or lose everything, Trump warns Venezuela military

MIAMI • US President Donald Trump delivered his sharpest warning yet to Venezuela's military authorities in an increasingly tense showdown over that country's crisis, proclaiming they would "lose everything" by remaining loyal to President Nicolas Maduro and refusing to allow in emergency aid stockpiled on the border.

Mr Trump gave the warning in a speech on Monday denouncing Venezuela's brand of socialism to an enthusiastic crowd in Miami that included many Americans of Venezuelan descent who have fled Venezuela or have relatives in the country, once Latin America's wealthiest but now facing the greatest economic collapse in generations.

He spoke five days before a deadline that his administration and the Venezuelan opposition leader, Mr Juan Guaido, have declared for getting humanitarian aid into the country - a move aimed at weakening Mr Maduro, who is no longer recognised by the United States and roughly 50 other nations as the country's president.

Mr Trump was the first to recognise Mr Guaido last month as Mr Maduro's replacement until new elections can be held.

"We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open," Mr Trump said. He urged all members of the Venezuelan military to permit the aid into the country, and advised them to accept the opposition's amnesty offer - or they will find "no safe harbour, no easy exit, and no way out". "You will lose everything," the US President said.

Despite the tough language, it remained unclear how the Venezuelan opposition would break Mr Maduro's blockade of the border with a delivery of food and medication on Saturday.

Mr Trump's own national security adviser said the US military - which has airlifted tons of supplies to Venezuela's doorstep on the Colombia border - will not cross into the country.

 
 
 

The ambitious land-and-sea campaign would bring humanitarian supplies through Colombia, Brazil and the Caribbean and eventually into the hands of thousands of Venezuelans who have suffered from protracted shortages of food and medicine.

While Mr Guaido is regarded by the Trump administration as Venezuela's rightful president, the White House still faces the reality that Mr Maduro controls the military, and with it, the state.

"If the opposition - and Trump administration - is trying to find ways to peel away military support for Mr Maduro, threatening its monopoly on food distribution is not likely to be helpful in that regard," said Dr Cynthia J. Arnson, the Latin American programme director at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

The opposition has so far been quiet about details of its plans, saying that if it released the information, Mr Maduro would stymie them with his security forces.

Ms Gaby Arellano, an opposition lawmaker sent by Mr Guaido to coordinate the aid, said that the opposition did not necessarily have to use the blocked Tienditas Bridge.

"The border with Colombia is immensely long, and so is the border with Brazil, and the border with the Antilles," she said.

"We want the aid to be coming in at all points."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2019, with the headline 'Let in aid or lose everything, Trump warns Venezuela military'. Print Edition | Subscribe