CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — 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 neighboring countries.
In an interview Thursday, Guaido told The Associated Press that the move will be a "new test" for Venezuela's military, whose top brass has sided with socialist President Nicolas Maduro since protests against his rule broke out last week.
"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 neighboring countries.
"We are not just taking aid from the United States," Guaido said. "But in the next few days we will announce a global coalition to send aid to Venezuela."
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.
Earlier this week, the United States announced sanctions that will bar Venezuelan oil imports and could cost the Maduro administration up to $11 billion 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 spiraling 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."