Venezuela's Guaido vows to defy Maduro-imposed ban on aid

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said he will defy a government ban on humanitarian aid by sending large convoys of medicine into the country with the help of neighbouring allies.

Self-proclaimed president says move will be 'new test' for military, which has so far backed Maduro government

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido speaks to the media in Caracas on Thursday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said he will defy a government ban on humanitarian aid by sending large convoys of medicine into the country with the help of neighbouring allies.

In an interview Thursday, Guaido told The Associated Press the move will be a "new test" for Venezuela's military, whose top brass has sided with President Nicolas Maduro since protests against his rule broke out.

"In a few weeks they will have to choose if they let much needed aid into the country, or if they side with Nicolas Maduro," said Guaido, who recently offered an amnesty to members of the military in another effort to encourage them to defect from the Maduro administration. 

Guaido explained that aid for Venezuela will include life-saving medicines that are scarce in Venezuela and will be transported by vehicles arriving at several border points, after it is shipped into "friendly ports" in neighbouring countries.

"We are not just taking aid from the United States," Guaido explained. "But in the next few days we will announce a global coalition to send aid to Venezuela."

A senior U.S. administration official said earlier Thursday that the United States was ready to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela whenever and however Guaido decided.

The official said Maduro was the only obstacle to delivering medicine, food and other basic goods, which are all in extremely short supply in Venezuela because of a devastating economic crunch that has driven at least three million people to flee the country in recent years. 

Maduro has refused to receive any international aid, arguing it would be interference in Venezuelan affairs.

Supporters of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attend a rally in downtown Caracas on Thursday. (Fausto Torrealba/Reuters)

Guaido, the 35-year-old president of Venezuela's Congress declared himself to be Venezuela's legitimate leader last week and set up a transitional government that has been backed by the United States, Canada and most South American countries.

Guaido argues that Maduro was re-elected in a sham election last year, and is invoking two articles of Venezuela's constitution that he says allow him as the leader of the national assembly to assume the presidency and call elections when the current president is holding power illegitimately.

Maduro has described Guaido's challenge as a "vile" coup attempt and still has control of most of the Venezuelan government, including its cash cow, the state owned oil company.

New U.S. sanctions

Earlier this week, the United States announced sanctions that will bar Venezuelan oil imports and could cost the Maduro administration up to $11 billion US over the next year. 

Guaido backed the sanctions on Thursday and described them as a means to stop Venezuela's wealth from being looted by the Maduro government which he described as a corrupt "dictatorship."

"It's not just the United States doing this," Guaido said. "Our parliament and acting presidency asked for the protection of our country's assets."

Guaido's claim to the Venezuelan presidency has been backed by protests in which at least 35 people have been killed and more than 900 have been arrested, according to human rights groups.

Guaido said that he is still sees transparent elections as the best way out of Venezuela's spiralling political crisis, but realizes that Maduro will not easily grant them unless he is pressured to do so by economic sanctions, street protests and Venezuela's military.

"We have to erode the pillars that support this dictatorship," he said.

But he added that the opposition will have to continue to apply pressure mechanisms until Maduro's "usurpation of power has ceased."