By Angus Berwick and Vivian Sequera
CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido left Caracas with some 80 lawmakers on Thursday on a 800-km (500-mile) trip to the Colombian border where they hope to receive food and medicine to alleviate shortages in defiance of President Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro’s beleaguered socialist government, which denies there is an economic crisis in Venezuela, said on Thursday it was considering closing the border with Colombia and would close the border with Brazil.
Guaido, who is recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, has pledged to bring in the humanitarian aid already piling up in warehouses on the Colombian side of the border by land and sea on Saturday.
Brazil’s government on Tuesday pledged to deliver aid that would enter aboard trucks driven by Venezuelans organized by Guaido.
In televised comments on Thursday, Maduro said the stockpiling was a “provocation”. He argues the opposition’s plans are a cheap show to undermine his government.
“I don’t want to take any decision of this type, but I am evaluating it, a total closure of the border with Colombia,” Maduro said.
Crowds formed alongside a main highway out of the capital, waving Venezuelan flags and whooping in support, as the convoy of opposition lawmakers’ buses departed.
“Through this call for humanitarian aid, the population will benefit from the arrival of these goods to the Venezuelan border,” opposition legislator Edgar Zambrano said as he waited to board a bus in a plaza of eastern Caracas.
Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency on Jan. 23 and denounces Maduro as an usurper.
Political analysts say Saturday’s border showdown is less about solving Venezuela’s needs and more about testing the military’s loyalty towards Maduro by daring it to turn the aid away.
Guaido still has not provided details on how the aid will come in. Opposition figures have suggested forming human chains across the Colombian border to pass packages from person to person and fleets of boats arriving from the Dutch Caribbean islands.
One opposition lawmaker in south-eastern Bolivar state said he and some 20 other politicians would also travel to the border with Brazil.
Maduro accuses the Trump administration, which recognizes Guaido but has levied crippling sanctions against the Venezuelan government, of seeking to force his ouster.
The United States has sent tons of aid to the border, which Maduro has mocked as a “cheap show.” Vice President Delcy Rodriguez has alleged the aid is poisonous and could lead to cancer.
On Wednesday, Maduro’s socialist administration said it had closed the country’s maritime border with the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, after Curacao’s government said it would help store aid destined for Venezuela.
A boat carrying 250 tons of aid left Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan on Wednesday headed for Venezuela, the local government said in a statement.
Colombia expelled five Venezuelans from the Colombian border town of Cucuta for “carrying forward activities which attack citizen security and social order,” its migration agency said in a statement late on Wednesday.
“We know there is interest by the Maduro dictatorship in affecting national security because of coming events,” agency director Christian Kruger added in the statement.
(Reporting by Angus Berwick, Vivian Sequera, Fabian Cambero and Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota and Maria Ramirez in Puerto Ordaz; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Bill Trott and Sonya Hepinstall)