U.S. aid is at the center of a possible showdown in Venezuela, and recent satellite images from along the country’s border with Colombia give a sense of how the crisis is playing out.
Two bridges at Cucuta, a Colombian city of 800,000 at the Venezuelan border, provide a kind of backdrop: the Tienditas bridge and the Simon Bolivar International Bridge about four miles to the south.
Humanitarian aid destined for the people of Venezuela has been arriving in Cucuta for weeks. It’s part of an effort by the U.S. to push out Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his socialist government in favor of the self-proclaimed interim leader Juan Guaido.
Maduro has accused Washington of mounting a coup and labeled the aid a political tool and a prelude to an “invasion.” He vowed to keep the aid from entering the country, despite chronic shortages of food and medicine that have already led to tens of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing their country.
Dating back to at least January 2017, Venezuelan authorities had barricaded the Tienditas bridge with concrete barriers and fencing, according to DigitalGlobe satellite images. However, two shipping containers and a tanker truck apparently arrived recently, appearing in images from Feb. 11.
Meanwhile, Guaido has pledged that the aid would enter the country by Saturday. Opposition leaders have spoken of unspecified “contingency” plans to ensure that the aid gets through.
Last weekend, before assembled television cameras and a welcome committee of U.S. and Colombian officials and opposition-allied Venezuelans, U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo jets began ferrying hundreds of tons of Venezuela-bound food and medicine into the airport in Cucuta.
The aid is being stockpiled in warehouses at the entrance to the bridge, which was finished in recent years but never used for regular cross-border traffic.
The power struggle in Venezuela was set to become a battle of the bands Friday.
British billionaire Richard Branson is sponsoring a Live Aid-style concert featuring dozens of musicians on one side of the border crossing that Colombian officials have renamed the “Unity Bridge.”
Maduro’s socialist government is promising a three-day festival called Hands Off Venezuela on the other.
Miles south of the blockade, near the Simon Bolivar International Bridge from Venezuela to Cucuta, a vast collection of market stalls and street vendor stands are open for Venezuelans seeking the items they can’t find or can’t afford in their own country.
The merchants sell potatoes, diapers, toilet paper, tires, Venezuelan cigarettes and other items. Some hold up signs offering cash for bits of gold or silver, even women’s hair.
Many of the vendors and most of the clients are Venezuelan, among the 30,000 who cross into Colombia every day.
But many of those crossing the bridge are joining the exodus of millions who have given up on their homeland and immigrated elsewhere in recent years.
Graphics and production by Priya Krishnakumar, Colleen Shalby and Chris Keller. Reporting contributed by Mexico City bureau chief Patrick J. McDonnell, special correspondents Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia, Mery Mogollon in Caracas, Venezuela, and Liliana Nieto del Rio in Cucuta.