Inside Venezuela’s Showdown: Why U.S. Aid Can’t Get Through | The Dispatch

That’s Sonia Ruiz. She’s one of millions
of Venezuelans fleeing economic
collapse and oppression — and crossing over
here into Colombia. We’re in the
border town of Cúcuta, where there’s a tense standoff
over the future of Venezuela. The anger is focused
on humanitarian aid that the U.S. has sent and
that Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro,
refuses to accept. It’s a standoff that could
lead to a violent showdown. So, what happens next? First, a quick recap. Tensions started to
build in early February, when convoys rushed
U.S.-donated food supplies across Colombia to Venezuela,
only to be blocked at the border. Maduro sent his troops
to barricade the bridge and stop the aid
from entering. But Juan Guaidó, who in
January declared himself Venezuela’s rightful president, promised to get
the aid through. Then, the United States
backed Guaidó with more aid shipments,
this time arriving on military planes. But the donated
help is still stuck. It sits in a tightly
guarded warehouse. Beans, oil, pasta, diapers —
all packaged and heavily branded by a country that has
sanctioned Maduro’s government “So in talking with people
crossing the border, it’s amazing how many
people travel hours to cross the border
just for toilet paper.” And here’s the thing. It’s not that
much aid, really. The basic foods here could
feed maybe 100,000 people for one day. In a country of 30 million,
it’s a drop in a bucket. But it’s enough to strike
a nerve — and fuel dissent. There is a real
crisis in Venezuela. We came to Cúcuta last
year and saw thousands of people crossing this
bridge on foot each day, looking for a job
or even just a meal. Today, things
appear to be worse. This food kitchen serves
about 4,500 meals a day to migrants. Now, Guaidó has announced a
hard deadline of Feb. 23 to get the aid
across the border, even if it means
carrying it over on foot. But all of that hinges on whether
Maduro’s security forces will defy his orders and
let the humanitarian aid in. It’s a tall order. This man knows. In January, Major
Sergeant Harry Solano and dozens of his
fellow officers revolted and declared
their allegiance to Guaidó. Their videos went viral. And Solano has been fleeing
from his life ever since. We met him on his first
day here, in Cúcuta. A Venezuelan human rights
group confirmed his case. It took Solano about two
weeks to escape to Colombia, relying each step of the
way, he said, on help from sympathetic soldiers. We sit with him in the
lobby of the Casino Hotel Internacional. The hotel has become
opposition central for mobilizing efforts to
get the aid into Venezuela. Sergent Solono goes
to a local U.N. office to apply for political asylum. We catch up with him later,
as the lonely reality of his first night
in exile sets in. The U.S. appears confident, too. Senator Marco Rubio has
been the strongest advocate for Maduro’s ouster. “It’s not a one-time delivery. We’re not delivering
a refrigerator. We’re delivering food. People have to eat every day.” President Trump urged
Venezuelan generals to defect. “You must not follow
Maduro’s orders to block humanitarian aid. And you must not threaten
any form of violence against peaceful protest.” Guaidó offered Maduro’s
officers amnesty. But Maduro has been
cultivating loyalty among the military for years. He’s designated
over 1,000 generals and given them lucrative ties
to the state-owned oil company. For now, they’ve stood by him. We see Solano again,
waiting in the hotel lobby. He’s received word from
an undisclosed source about his family in Venezuela. Pushing the aid
across is a gamble, one that could force
a larger confrontation inside Venezuela. Perhaps that, in the
end, is the point.