Venezuela's Maduro Announces He Is Breaking Country's Ties With Colombia

Maduro expels Colombian diplomats for assisting in efforts to bring in U.S.-backed humanitarian aid amid intense clashes in the country

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Demonstrators man a barricade during clashes with the Bolivarian National Guard in Urena, Venezuela, near the border with Colombia, February 23, 2019.
Demonstrators man a barricade during clashes with the Bolivarian National Guard in Urena, Venezuela, near the border with Colombia, February 23, 2019. Credit: Rodrigo Abd/AP

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Satuday his government had broken relations with Colombia and would expel some Colombian diplomatic staff after Colombia assisted the opposition's efforts to bring humanitarian aid into the country. 

"Patience is exhausted, I can't bare it anymore, we can't keep putting up with Colombian territory being used for attacks against Venezuela. For that reason, I have decided to break all political and diplomatic relations with Colombia's fascist government," Maduro said in a speech. 

He said the ambassador and consular staff would have to leave Venezuela within 24 hours. 

Venezuelan troops loyal to President Nicolas Maduro fired tear gas and rubber pellets at opposition supporters seeking to bring foreign aid over the Colombian border on Saturday, as the country's socialist government defied international pressure to step down. 

The clashes occurred as Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who most Western nations recognize as Venezuela's legitimate leader, gave a personal send off to an aid caravan from the Colombian city of Cucuta. 

Guaido briefly boarded one of a dozen trucks carrying U.S.-backed humanitarian aid before they set off towards the border, where they were pushed back by Venezuelan security forces. 

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro talks to supporters during a rally in support of the government in Caracas, Venezuela February 23, 2019. Credit: Reuters

Colombia's government said their contents would be unloaded and transported by "human chains" that have formed on the road that leads toward Venezuela. 

But in the towns of San Antonio and Urena, just across the border, troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at opposition activists including lawmakers walking towards the frontier who were waving Venezuelan flags and chanting "freedom." 

Witnesses reported constant gunfire without being able to identify the origin. 

"They started shooting at close range as if we were criminals," said shopkeeper Vladimir Gomez, 27, wearing a white shirt stained with blood. "I couldn't avoid the [rubber] bullets and they hit me in the face and my back. We have to fight." 

Many of the demonstrators said they were peaceful civilians who simply wanted aid because of widespread food and medicine shortages in the once-prosperous country suffering an unprecedented economic meltdown. 

"I'm a homemaker, and I'm here fighting for my family, for my children and parents, resisting the military's tear gas and soldiers on motorbikes," said Sobeida Monsalve, 42. 

A demonstrator tries to stop the violence as she stands in front of a line of Bolivarian National Guard officers during clashes in Urena, Venezuela, February 23, 2019.Credit: Fernando Llano/AP

Others barricaded streets with burning tires, set a bus alight and hurled stones at security forces to demand that Maduro allow aid into a country ravaged by food and medicine shortages in the wake of an economic meltdown. 

National guard troops also fired tear gas in Santa Elena near the Brazilian border where people tried set up barricades to prevent armed pro-government agitators from entering. 

On Friday, troops had opened fire in a village in the area killing a woman and her husband. Thirty-five National Guard troops are being held by the indigenous community in protest, the mayor of the broader Gran Sabana municipality said. 

Two humanitarian aid trucks crossed the Brazilian border although they had not passed through the Venezuelan customs checkpoint, according to a Reuters witness.