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Deadly Clashes Erupt As Venezuela Military Attempts To Block Aid


We're going to begin the program in Venezuela, where violence has broken out at the border with Colombia. Venezuelan troops fired tear gas and stopped crowds trying to bring humanitarian aid across the border. The clash left at least one truck in flames. The aid effort was organized by opponents of Venezuela's authoritarian president, Nicolas Maduro, and it was led by Juan Guaido, the man who is recognized by the U.S. and several other governments as Venezuela's interim president. Correspondent John Otis is with us now from the Colombian side of the border.

John, thanks so much for being here with us.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So you saw the confrontation with the trucks. Can you just tell us what happened?

OTIS: Sure. I mean, first of all, the day started out with a lot of optimism. There were hundreds of Venezuelan volunteers trying to bring humanitarian aid across the border. But what happened is four big trucks lumbered on down to the bridge here between the Colombian city of Cucuta and the Venezuelan city of Urena. And once they got out on the bridge, Venezuelan soldiers stopped them. They started firing off tear gas and buckshot. And actually, two of the four trucks burned.

One of the trucks managed to pull out. Another truck just got stuck out there on the border, and some of the volunteers managed to pull out some of the boxes of aid. But the trucks were burning there for most of the afternoon - huge plumes of black smoke climbing up into the sky, tear gas everywhere. And so, you know, the bridge is all blocked up right now.

MARTIN: And I can still hear quite a lot of activity around you there where you are now. Have you heard anything about casualties there or in other spots around Venezuela's border?

OTIS: Two people were reported to have been killed on Brazil's - on Venezuela's southern border with Brazil. Here in Colombia, there have been no reports of people killed. However, a lot of people have been injured by buckshot and also overcome with tear gas. Among them was a woman named Elizabeth Romero (ph), and here's what she said.

ELIZABETH ROMERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: She said when she was riding on one of the aid trucks, the Venezuelan soldiers began to fire tear gas and buckshot, and she was just overcome by that. And she said, you know, it's Venezuelans killing one another, and we're doing all of this, you know, for this president in Venezuela who we really don't like.

MARTIN: And she sounds very emotional and very upset, as you can - as we can hear. Now, we understand that Venezuela has now cut diplomatic ties with Colombia. What else are we hearing from either Maduro or Guaido?

OTIS: Yeah. You know, I mean, Venezuela - that move by President Maduro today is in some ways rather symbolic because, you know, Venezuela and Colombia had pretty bad ties already. Colombian President Ivan Duque supports Juan Guaido, the opposition leader and the legitimate president. He called Maduro a dictator. So, you know, those - the ties between the two countries were pretty bad to begin with, and this just makes it worse.

MARTIN: So finally, John, where does the relief effort stand now? What - forgive me if I'm asking you to speculate, but do we expect more attempts, more confrontations?

OTIS: You know, Michel, I was talking to a number of the volunteers about that this afternoon. I was here on the bridge. And they're saying, you know, we tried that today. They were really expecting, they were really hoping that the Venezuelan armed forces would, you know, back down and allow the aid in and maybe come over to - you know, come over to the side of Juan Guaido, the opposition leader. But they didn't do that, and so they're saying, you know, we don't know what we're going to do next, but this doesn't seem to be working.

MARTIN: That is correspondent John Otis.

John, thank you so much for talking to us.

OTIS: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.