Guaido had appealed to Venezuela’s armed forces to stand to one side and allow aid in, promising amnesty to all officers who disavowed Maduro. Several soldiers, whose families suffer from the same shortages as other Venezuelans, took up his offer.
Twenty-three members of the security forces defected on Saturday, including 18 members of the National Guard and two police officers, Colombia’s migration authority said.
A social media video showed troops who abandoned their post driving armored vehicles across a bridge linking Venezuela and Colombia, knocking over metal barricades, and then jumping out of the vehicles and running to the Colombian side.
“What we did today, we did for our families, for the Venezuelan people,” said one of the defectors in a video televised by a Colombian news program, which did not identify them. “We are not terrorists.”
Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party calls Guaido’s aid effort a veiled invasion backed by Washington and insists that the United States should instead help Venezuela by lifting crippling financial and oil sector sanctions.
Maduro blames Venezuela’s dire situation on U.S. sanctions that have blocked funds and hobbled the OPEC member’s vital oil industry.
On Saturday, Maduro turned his ire on Colombia and said President Ivan Duque’s government was allowing its territory to be used for “attacks against Venezuela.”
“For that reason, I have decided to break all political and diplomatic relations with Colombia’s fascist government,” he told cheering supporters.
Nearby, thousands of white-clad protesters gathered outside a military base in Caracas to demand that the armed forces allow the aid in.
“This is the biggest battle that the armed forces can win,” said Sheyla Salas, 48, who works in advertising. “Please join this struggle, get on the right side of history, allow the humanitarian aid to enter.”
According to a Reuters witness, two humanitarian aid trucks crossed the Brazilian border although they had not passed through the Venezuelan customs checkpoint.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton canceled plans to travel to South Korea to prepare for a summit addressing North Korea’s nuclear program in order to focus instead on events unfolding in Venezuela, his spokesman said on Friday.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in a message on Twitter on Saturday, said: “To Juan Guaido and all the people of Venezuela taking a stand for freedom and humanitarian relief: Estamos con ustedes. We are with you.”