The Venezuelan opposition's attempt was frustrated as the border with Colombia remained closed.
Aerial view of the international bridge between Cúcuta and Ureña, where the smoke of burned trucks can be seen
Ureña, Táchira, Venezuela-The day of the announced arrival of “humanitarian aid” to Venezuela, Feb. 23, came and went. The apocalyptic forecasts did not take place. Nicolás Maduro did not fall; Juan Guaidó stayed in Cúcuta, Colombia; and no Hollywood showdown took place in Venezuela.
High tension? There was plenty, particularly in the border area where Venezuela is separated from Colombia by three bridges over an almost dry river: at Simón Bolívar, Tienditas and Santander. On the Venezuelan side is the state of Táchira -- with the cities of San Antonio and Ureña -- and on the other side, in North Santander, is the city of Cúcuta.
The day began early as expected -- a strong confrontation on the bridges that was covered by an army of media. There were moments of excitement, for example, when a handful of members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) decided to join the ranks of Trump, Rubio, Duque and Guaidó. The opposition’s enthusiasm quickly subsided, however, and with the passing hours it became certain that neither people nor trucks would pass to the other side.
This situation had two central components. On the one hand, a permanent stand-off unfolded on the Bolívar and Santander bridges -- in addition to an attempt to occupy the airport in the city of San Antonio in Táchira, which was thwarted. And, on the other hand, the deployment of trucks with “humanitarian aid.”
The confrontation brought to mind the violent street strategies known as “guarimbas” that were implemented in several Venezuelan cities during 2014 and again in 2017. The difference is that the current violent actions are focused on international bridges with the explicit support of the Colombian state security forces.
The cycle was repeated: First an advance toward the Venezuelan side, then a retreat and an attempt to cross under the Simón Bolívar Bridge. What can you expect a government to do in the face of an internationally financed guarimba-style attempt at invasion?
Deploying trucks had three key goals. The first was so the media could exploit the images of some caravans on their way to the bridges. The second was to spread the false claim that they had entered Venezuela -- as the Venezuelan singer Nacho did at the end of the day. And the third was to create a false-flag pretext for intervention by burning two trucks. The media headlines would blame the Bolivarian National Guard, showing youths in the front line of the confrontation when it was filmed.
The truck fires seem to have been planned, and the media interpreted them to accuse Nicolás Maduro of having committed a crime against humanity. International threats escalated, like the one tweeted by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who claimed that Venezuela had fired shots into Colombian territory and that the United States would defend Colombia in the case of aggression.
No ‘aid’ entered Venezuela
What’s certain is that -- beyond those events -- what had been announced did not occur. The so-called “humanitarian aid” did not enter Venezuela through any point -- not through Colombia, nor Brazil, nor by sea. There was no breakdown of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces. The bridges looked like the well-known scenes of the usual violent strategy of the right, now in a more complex framework.
If all this was meant to be the final day, it was not. If it was meant to be the breaking point, it does not seem to have happened the way it was announced. Once again the events demoralized the social base of the opposition, which had to face the gap between the promises of its leaders -- now international -- and the real balance of forces.
The supporters of Chavismo, for their part, mobilized in Caracas; it was their fifth consecutive mobilization in five days. In this context, the government announced a key step -- that it would break relations with the Colombian government -- in addition to decisions made previously to close the borders with Brazil, Colombia and the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao.
The result at the end of Feb. 23 was that the big offensive, which was supposed to be the final offensive, failed to achieve its objectives. The Venezuelan government stood up to the aggression that, as we know, struck on several flanks simultaneously: weapons, media, psy-war, diplomats and an attempt to grab territories on the border. That final outcome could have been expected by taking into account the actual forces on the ground -- eliminating the inflated claims on social media -- and without the appearance of a new manifesto from the likes of Elliott Abrams, Iván Duque or Marco Rubio.
The weapon of fake news
There is another factor: namely the amount of fake news, fabrications of rumors and unverified data without any credible sources. It is part of the numbing avalanche of false information, with the goal of providing justification for further possible actions. The case of the burned trucks was the most obvious provocation on Feb. 23.
The difficulty often comes when confirming sources, numbers and accuracy of the facts -- which tend to be swept away by the logic of a war that uses media activity as the backbone of its operation. No one can be surprised by a U.S. lie during acts of aggression. There can be no right to remain naive; we need to be constantly suspicious.
What will happen on Feb. 24 or 25? It is too early to know. It would seem, from the way events have taken place, that the pressures on the bridges will continue, while there will be no real way to enter Venezuela. International threats and meetings will be on the rise, and perhaps there will be a major phony provocation. I predicted it on the night of Feb. 22-23 when Rubio wrote about the possibility of the Colombian National Liberation Army killing civilians. He announced what they themselves seem willing to do, how to camouflage their actions, using them to justify new actions and shift from "humanitarian aid" to a new scenario.
The border conflict ends in a tense night, as if something could happen at any moment. We are in for complex hours and days, where one of the central objectives of the Venezuelan government, of Chavismo, is to prevent being trapped into an action that can provide images of violence -- and actual violence -- such as that which left 42 wounded on the Venezuelan side on Feb. 23.
An idea of the social media climate on Saturday night (Feb. 23-24) is seen by what’s trending on Twitter, where five of the most popular hashtags are calling for international intervention. The majority opinion thus clearly agrees that the internal opposition will fail to overthrow the democratically elected Nicolás Maduro through its own efforts.