Venezuelan soldiers have opened fire on indigenous people near the border with Brazil, killing two, as President Nicolas Maduro sought to block the US-backed opposition's efforts to bring aid into the country. The violence on Friday broke out in the village of Kumarakapay in southern Venezuela after an indigenous community stopped a military convoy that they believed was attempting to block aid deliveries from Brazil.
Maduro, who has called the US-backed aid efforts a "cheap show", had ordered the closure of Venezuela’s border with Brazil, where the Brazilian government said it has stockpiled 200 tonnes of food and medicine in the town of Boa Vista.
The United States, which is among dozens of nations to recognise opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, has also been stockpiling aid in the Colombian frontier town of Cucuta to ship across the border this weekend.
Late on Friday, Maduro’s government shuttered the Tachira frontier that connects with Cucuta. That was after Guaido defied a travel ban and crossed the border to attend a charity concert to push for aid deliveries.
With tensions running high after Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s interim president last month, Maduro has denied there is an humanitarian crisis in the country despite widespread shortages of food and medicine and hyperinflation.
In Kumarakapay on Friday, Richard Fernandez, a community leader, told Reuters news agency that soldiers entered their village and opened fire when residents tried to block the convoy.
"I stood up to them to back the humanitarian aid," Fernandez said. "And they came charging at us. They shot innocent people who were in their homes, working."
An indigenous couple were killed and at least 15 people were injured, residents said. Seven of the injured were rushed by ambulance to a hospital in Brazil’s Boa Vista, a spokesperson for the state governor’s office said.
Diosdado Cabello, one of the most prominent figures in Maduro’s Socialist Party, accused the civilians involved in the clash of being "violent groups" directed by the opposition.
The Venezuelan opposition is planning to hold three simultaneous aid pushes on Saturday.
Aside from Boa Vista in Brazil, they also hope to bring in aid from the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao and Colombia’s Cucuta, where Guaido, the opposition leader, made a surprise appearance on Friday during a concert organised by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson.
In remarks after the event, Guaido spoke alongside Colombian President Ivan Duque and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and said he had been able to circumvent Maduro’s travel ban only with the help of the armed forces.
"The question of the moment is for the armed forces because we know society is absolutely mobilised to help others," he said. "The question is, how to do this when airspace, maritime access, roads are closed."
Duque meanwhile urged Venezuela’s military to be on "the right side of history", calling the delivery of aid an "irreversible, historic process".
Hours later, Caracas said it had sealed the Colombian border across the whole of Tachira - the western state that borders Cucuta - citing threats to Venezuela’s security. "Due to the serious and illegal threats attempted by the Government of Colombia against peace and sovereignty in Venezuela, [the Venezuelan government] has taken the decision of a total, temporary closure of all bridges that unite both countries in Tachira," Delcy Rodriguez, Venezuela’s vice president, wrote on Twitter.