British billionaire Richard Branson sponsored a Live Aid-style concert on the Colombian border. President Nicolas Maduro held a "Hands off Venezuela" festival on the other side. The question of aid is center stage.
Thousands of people — including Venezuelan opposition leader and National Assembly leader Juan Guaido — attended the charity concert on the Colombian border on Friday ahead of the weekend attempt to bring humanitarian aid from the US into Venezuela.
The airline and train entrepreneur Richard Branson was direct and to the point at a press conference in the Colombian border town of Cucuta on Friday. He said he hoped the Venezuela Live Aid concert would convince soldiers to disobey the Venezuelan president and allow shipments of aid stacked at the border to pass into the South American country.
The US Agency for International Development said on Friday that about 191 metric tons of aid had been delivered to a depot in the border town over the last two weeks. The aim is to take it over the border on Saturday.
The supplies are part of a package announced last month when the Trump administration recognized Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader and called on Maduro to step down.
The Maduro government promised a three-day festival starting Friday on the other side of the border under the banner "Hands off Venezuela."
Branson and UK foreign minister
Branson postponed a planned space test flight by his Virgin Galactic company in California to come to Cucuta for the concert that he and a Colombian entrepreneur friend had decided to organize after speaking to opposition leader Juan Guaido and his political mentor Leopoldo Lopez.
"For those people who think Venezuela is a utopia and Venezuela isn't suffering they should really come here into the crowd today and ask them why they are leaving," Branson said.
Guaido set out from the capital, Caracas, on Thursday with a convoy of trucks to bring the aid across the border. His 900-kilometer (560-mile) trip has been making slow progress as a series of check-points on the highway delay the convoy.
Britain's foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, adopted a similar tone on Twitter writing that "Maduro closing borders to humanitarian aid while innocent Venezuelans suffer is disgusting and wholly unacceptable. The blocking of any aid is inhumane, it must be allowed in. Venezuelans have suffered enough."
The Live Aid concert began with the Colombian national anthem. Venezuelan singer Reymar was the first on stage: "From this moment our country will be different and free," he said. The event features 35 Hispanic artists, including Spain's Alejandro Sanz, Colombia's Carlos Vives and Dominican Jose Luis Guerra.
Colombian President Ivan Duque, Chile's Sebastian Pinera and Mario Abdo of Paraguay were expected to take part in the closing ceremony on Friday evening.
Maduro's "Hands off Venezuela" was due to start at the same time and while a stage was set up, there was no sight or sound of music from the heavily-guarded site on Friday.
UN reports higher numbers of refugees
The UN refugee and migration agencies increased their estimate of the number of people who have left Venezuela from 3 million in November to 3.4 million. The UNHCR envoy Eduardo Stein said Colombia was hosting more than 1.1 million people, Peru 506,000 and
Chile 288,000. Brazil has allowed 96,000 Venezuelans to enter the country.
Praising the countries who have taken in the refugees, the UNHCR said it was of the "utmost importance that the people in need of international protection can seek the protection they require."
Venezuelan Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Gil was in the Russian parliament on Friday, where he said Maduro was "constantly in touch" with President Vladimir Putin on the phone.
Thanking Russia for a recent delivery of medicine, Gil denied there was a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan government maintained its opposition to the entry of the aid, claiming it was a US invasion by stealth.
Bolivian President Evo Morales backed the Maduro government on Friday, claiming "humanitarian aid will be used as a 'Trojan horse' in Venezuela, to invade and provoke a war."
Tons of aid supplies sent by Venezuelans in the US have been held up on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao after Venezuelan authorities closed air and sea routes to the island. The aid is to be kept in storage until permission is granted, according to Curacao authorities on Friday.
Maduro has already sealed the border with Brazil and said he is believed to be considering closing the Colombian border as well. A presidential spokesman in Brazil said the country had 200 tons of food and medicine aid waiting for Venezuelans but only one truck had arrived to pick it up.
Death on the border with Brazil
The Venezuelan mayor of a town bordering Brazil said on Friday a woman from an indigenous community had been shot dead and others injured in a clash with security forces. Gran Sabana Mayor Emilio Gonzalez said members of the Pemon ethnic group clashed with members of the Venezuelan National Guard and army who he says were moving tanks to the border with Brazil.
jm/sms (Reuters, EFE, AP)