CUCUTA, Colombia – A pre-dawn raid by Nicolas Maduro’s secret police resulted in the arrest of one of Interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaido’s senior aides, and now Guaido is holding rallies and claims the embattled Maduro’s regime cannot last much longer.
High stakes brinksmanship is at play on the world stage between the United States and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s government. After US aid supplies were burned at the border by troops loyal to Maduro, the Trump administration has continued to ramp up the pressure on the embattled leader to leave office, something Maduro has steadfastly refused to do.
After Guaido’s top aide was arrested by Venezuelan intelligence operatives in a pre-dawn raid March 21, Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, fired off a tweet threatening even more sanctions ahead.
Though all of Venezuela’s borders are officially closed, more than 40,000 desperate Venezuelans are escaping into Cucuta, Columbia alone every day. Most are hoping to find some kind of work in order to send help to the families they left behind.
Catherine has been living on the street with two of her children.
“I’ve been here four months working as a porter,” she told CBN News.
She tries to make a living carrying supplies back across the dangerous river crossing into Venezuela. But there’s a lot of competition.
“Sometimes I have to fight the other porters because everyone wants the same car, you know?” she said.
The sense of frustration reached a boiling point weeks ago when gangs loyal to Maduro burned aid sent by Colombia and the United States. Catherine along with many others are bitter about what happened.
“If we go back it won’t be any better. At least here my kids can eat,” she explained.
Cracks are appearing in the ranks of the Venezuelan armed forces as well. Two soldiers who threw down their arms on Feb. 23 when they were given orders to fire on their own people were interviewed by CBN News.
Sergeant Major Darwin Malagera said morale in his unit was at rock bottom.
“February 23 was the breaking point,” he said. “When we saw what was happening, we decided we wanted to be on the right side of history and we made the decision on our own to cross over to the Colombian side.”
First Sergeant Omar Carrero was on the bridge that day watching the tragedy unfold.
“Many times we had talked about defecting amongst ourselves. But (we) were very afraid one of our superiors would hear us because if they did, we’d be thrown in prison automatically,” he said. “But finally in small groups, we made the decision to cross.”
“On the very same day, the secret police showed up at my house looking for my family. Thank God they weren’t home,” Carrero added.
Eventually, more than 1,000 of their fellow soldiers followed suit, including some officers. But many more are still afraid.
“I can say that 98% of the troops in the army would like to see a change of government,” Malagera said. “It’s just that there are still so many who are fearful of what will happen to their families if they defect.”
To keep his stranglehold on power, Maduro has been arming gangs of criminals who swear allegiance to his regime. Known as “Colectivos”, these gangs currently control the Venezuela – Columbian border. And everyone who comes across has to pay a fee.
So for the time being, these Venezuelan soldiers can only wait, hope and pray the regime will collapse under the weight of it’s own evil. They also have a message for America.
“Please keep supporting us, putting pressure on in every way possible,” Malagera said. “I’d like to say with military force, but I know that would result in lots of bloodshed in Venezuela.”
“We don’t have a plan. We’re simply ready and willing to follow the orders of our president, Juan Guaido every day,” Carrero noted.