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CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Nicolas Maduro is reopening Venezuela's borders with Aruba and Brazil after shutting off land and sea access in February to block the opposition from delivering international humanitarian aid.

Industry Minister Tareck El Aissami said Friday that the borders with Colombia and two other Dutch Caribbean islands remain shuttered because their leaders have not sufficiently assured that Venezuela's sovereignty will be respected.

"Hopefully wisdom prevails for the authorities of the other islands," El Aissami said in a broadcast on state television, "and they avoid becoming instruments of aggression against the territory of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela."

The South American nation's socialist government ordered the borders with Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Brazil and Colombia closed three months ago as the opposition tried to deliver food and medical supplies.

The aid was provided largely by the United States, a key ally of opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by over 50 nations as Venezuela's rightful president. Maduro dismissed the aid push as an infringement on Venezuela's sovereignty and a crudely disguised U.S.-backed attempt to remove him from power.

The bulk of the assistance was stored across the border in Colombia, while smaller amounts were held in Brazil and the Caribbean. Opposition leaders tried driving the aid across the land borders in trucks but were blocked by state security forces.

El Aissami said Maduro's government held talks with high-level officials in Aruba and Brazil and said they'd reached the "necessary agreement" to ensure that a repeat of the events on Feb. 23 would not occur again. He said Aruba's leader in particular had been "emphatic in the noninterference in the internal affairs of Venezuela."

"Not, however, with the other countries who share a border with our territory," he said.

He said that until the other two Dutch Caribbean islands and Colombia assure Venezuelan authorities that they will cease all "hostility" and attempts to destabilize Maduro's government, those borders will remain closed.

Relations between Venezuela and its neighbors have grown increasingly prickly as many leaders in the region have moved to support Guaido's claim to the presidency and efforts to remove Maduro from power.

The border closure has had an especially strong impact on the tens of thousands of Venezuelans who typically cross into Colombia on any given day, searching for food, medicine or a new life outside the struggling nation. Many are now crossing illegally into the country through dozens of illegal dirt pathways known as "trochas" where armed criminal groups charge for passage and frequently rob or assault those who are trying to enter.

Venezuela is in the throes of a power struggle between Maduro and Guaido, who declared himself the nation's interim president in January. Guaido has mobilized thousands of frustrated Venezuelans onto the streets but failed to win over key Maduro loyalists. A bid to spur a military rebellion last week quickly sputtered.

Edgar Zambrano, vice president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, was arrested this week and a Venezuelan court on Friday ordered him to be jailed at a military facility. He and nine other opposition leaders are under investigation in connection with the failed military insurrection. Several have sought refuge in foreign embassies in Caracas.

Zambrano's arrest has sparked fears of a wider crackdown even as opposition leaders have issued renewed calls for their supporters to protest again today.

"We're living in brutal persecution," Freddy Superlano, a lawmaker who supports Guaido, said from a location he wouldn't disclose. "We are hiding, and we will be doing so for a while."

Americo De Grazia, a Venezuelan of Italian origin who is a member of the National Assembly, has taken refuge in the residence of the Italian ambassador.

The foreign ministry said Friday that De Grazia was legitimately elected to the assembly and, despite enjoying parliamentary immunity, has been the subject of judicial proceedings that would result in his arrest.

The ministry said that in welcoming De Grazia into its Caracas residence, Italy was operating "in full conformity with diplomatic conventions."

Information for this article was contributed by Andrew Rosati, Alex Vasquez and Fabiola Zerpa of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 05/11/2019

Print Headline: Maduro to reopen 2 borders

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