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Venezuela's Maduro Threatens Military Force To Block U.S. Food Aid


Now to Venezuela and a showdown over hundreds of tons of U.S. food aid that's parked in neighboring Colombia waiting for distribution. The opposition leader, Juan Guaido, is calling on his army of volunteers to bring the food and medicine into the country. President Nicolas Maduro vows to use the military to block the aid, which he calls a pretext for a U.S. invasion. NPR's Eyder Peralta is with us now from the capital, Caracas.

Eyder, thanks so much for joining us.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So Guaido has said he's going to start moving the aid into Venezuela next Saturday, February 23. How is that going to happen?

PERALTA: So right now, we only have a rough idea. What we know is that 400,000 Venezuelans have signed up to help him do this. Yesterday, at one of the organizing meetings I went to, one of the leaders said that Guaido was planning to lead a convoy from Caracas to the border. And that's usually a 13-hour drive. But Guaido is planning to do that as a 30-day trek. He'll be stopping at cities along the way. And he's also called for nationwide protests on the 23. And he's also asked for people to gather on the Colombian side of the border.

What happens when he gets the border, if he's able to make it that far - that we're not sure about. I mean, there are a number of places to cross on foot. But Maduro has physically blocked one of the big bridges coming into Venezuela. The hope that the opposition has expressed is that the military abandons Maduro and allows the aid to come in.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, though, Maduro says he's sending the army to keep the food out. And that obviously sets the stage for what could be a confrontation that could easily turn violent. So what are people saying about that - the people that you've been talking to? What are they saying about that?

PERALTA: I've heard mixed emotions - anxiety, fear, hope. But the kind of overwhelming feeling I've heard is that Venezuelans are sick of the situation, and they want something to change. I was at a big slum outside Caracas yesterday. And it used to be hugely supportive of the government, but things have changed. I spoke to one woman, Dulce Perez (ph). She's 38. Her mother is sick. She doesn't know how or where she'll get the medicine she needs. And let's listen to a bit of what she told me.

DULCE PEREZ: People die every day here because no have medicine, no hospital, no - where no water - not anything.

PERALTA: So she says this government is the worst thing to happen to Venezuela. People seem to feel that they're, like, at a point whatever comes next is better than what they're living right now.

MARTIN: And U.S. sanctions against Venezuela mean that Venezuela is being denied the billion dollars in cash that the U.S. would otherwise pay for oil each month. Is that being felt on the streets?

PERALTA: It is. Lines for goods here had gotten a little shorter. And now they're starting to get longer. It's hard to find cash. Power outages have also become constant. The government is very clearly running low on cash. They usually give their loyalists boxes of food. And people I've spoken to say they haven't gotten the box since December.

MARTIN: And it's been nearly four weeks since Guaido was recognized internationally as Venezuela's legitimate interim leader, yet Maduro remains in power. What has the government been saying?

PERALTA: So Maduro is on TV, on state television every day. And he says this aid is a Trojan horse, and it's a precursor to an American invasion. And that's what he told his generals. He asked for them to draw up a plan to deal with people he called traitors and with what he said were enemy invaders. And he asked his generals to cause as much damage as possible. At the same time, though, he has also said that he is open to dialogue with the opposition or with the U.S. But his stance on not allowing the aid to come into the country seems hardened.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Eyder Peralta in Caracas, Venezuela.

Eyder, thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEN I TRUST SONG, "SHOW ME HOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.