Venezuela border tensions will test Jair Bolsonaro’s diplomacy

. Feb 22, 2019
brazil venezuela Brazil- Venezuela border

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has closed his country’s border with Brazil in an effort to prevent opposition-sponsored humanitarian aid from reaching Venezuela. The Brazilian government, however, has decided not to pull the plug on its plan to get food and medicine across the border. An Air Force plane is taking 22.8 tons of powdered milk and 500 first-aid kits to the city of Boa Vista, in northern Brazil. But in order to get the aid, Venezuelans will have to enter Brazil, pick up the goods, and try to cross the border again.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The standoff comes as part of a large effort from the Venezuelan opposition to bring humanitarian aid into the country, a move sponsored by the U.S. government and backed by Brazil and Colombia. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">recognized as Venezuela&#8217;s legitimate head of state</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> by the aforementioned three countries, has promised to bring the aid into Venezuela &#8220;at all costs&#8221; on Saturday.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-14264" src="" alt="Where do countries stand on Venezuela?" width="1024" height="683" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Still in power and backed by the local military, Nicolás Maduro is staunchly against the arrival of aid—despite his country&#8217;s full-scale crisis, with food shortages and inflation rates reaching 1,370,000 percent. The Venezuelan president sees the efforts as a </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Trojan horse</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> designed to oust him from the government. Mr. Maduro closed the border with Brazil and </span><a href=",maduro-envia-blindados-para-fronteira-com-brasil-diz-deputado-opositor,70002730544"><span style="font-weight: 400;">sent tanks to the neighboring Venezuelan state of Bolívar</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, and is weighing up a similar move on the border with Colombia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Currently, the aid is being stockpiled in three locations: Boa Vista (the capital of Brazil&#8217;s northernmost state of Roraima), the Colombian city of Cúcuta, and the nearby Carribean island of Curaçao—where a plane with 50 tons of United States aid landed this week.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">With tensions high, confrontations expected tomorrow—pro and anti-Maduro groups have organized demonstrations on each side of the Colombia-Venezuela border bridge and protests are scheduled across all Venezuelan states—and the border region resembling a warzone in progress, the Brazilian government has ensured that its participation in the aid effort will only go as far as the border.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Otávio Rêgo Barros, the spokesperson for the Jair Bolsonaro government, stated that though Brazilian forces will transport the food and medicine to the cities of Boa Vista and Pacaraima, their involvement will end there, and all aid will be taken across the border by Venezuelan drivers. These drivers, however, will surely face violence even if they manage to return to the Venezuelan side—armed pro-Maduro militias are expected to sack the vehicles as they cross the border.</span></p> <p><iframe src="" width="640" height="480"></iframe></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The border shutdown will directly affect Roraima, Brazil&#8217;s northernmost state—which is dependent on the neighboring country for fuel and power. In several towns close to the border, gas stations are nonexistent, as fuel is very cheap on the Venezuelan side. The same is true for agricultural producers in the state, who buy their fertilizers and lime across the border and could face shortages.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Roraima is the only Brazilian state not connected to the national power grid. Roughly 70 percent of the state’s </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">energy supply comes from Venezuela</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, meaning blackouts could be on the cards should Mr. Maduro end the supply.</span></p> <h2>A test for Brazil&#8217;s diplomacy</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão will represent Brazil next week at a meeting of the Lima Group, a 14-country body created to find solutions for the Venezuela crisis. Brazil doesn&#8217;t recognize the legitimacy of Mr. Maduro, considering opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country&#8217;s head of state.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">By sending Mr. Mourão to the Lima Group meeting, the Brazilian government wants to avoid any sort of blunder by Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo—who defends a </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">radical alignment with the U.S.</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> and sees Venezuela as an instrument of what he calls &#8220;cultural Marxism.&#8221; As tensions mount, any faux pas could trigger negative consequences for Brazil. </span></p> <h2>Crisis in Venezuela</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Blessed with the world&#8217;s largest oil reserves, Venezuela&#8217;s economy is based on the production of crude, propped up by elevated oil barrel prices in the 2000s. Years of mismanagement and cronyism has taken the country to rock bottom, however. Falls in production and barrel prices have destroyed an economy which was never diversified and caused millions of Venezuelans to flee the country.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Inflation rates coming from the country are pornographic in proportions, ranging from 132,000 percent this year to over 10,000,000 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. Accurate data is difficult to come by, as the deepening crisis caused the central bank to disclose less and less information.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Recent U.S. sanctions on the national oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) have made things even worse, with Donald Trump&#8217;s administration banning any dollar payments for Venezuelan oil. Production is plummeting, and Nicolás Maduro&#8217;s anti-democratic government is holding on by a thread, sustained only by the dwindling support of the Venezuelan military. Saturday&#8217;s operations could be the tipping point.

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