Footage contradicts U.S. claim that Nicolás Maduro burned aid convoy

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The narrative seemed to fit Venezuela’s authoritarian rule: Security forces, on the order of President Nicolás Maduro, had torched a convoy of humanitarian aid as millions in his country were suffering from illness and hunger.

Vice President Mike Pence wrote that “the tyrant in Caracas danced” as his henchmen “burned food & medicine.” The State Department released a video saying Mr. Maduro had ordered the trucks burned. And Venezuela’s opposition held up the images of the burning aid, reproduced on dozens of news sites and television screens throughout Latin America, as evidence of Mr. Maduro’s cruelty.

But there is a problem: The opposition itself –not Mr. Maduro’s men– appears to have set the cargo alight accidentally.

Unpublished footage obtained by The New York Times — including footage released by the Colombian government, which has blamed Mr. Maduro for the fire — allowed for a reconstruction of the incident. It suggests that a Molotov cocktail thrown by an anti-government protester was the most likely trigger for the blaze.

The rag used to light the Molotov cocktail separates from the bottle, flying toward the aid truck instead. Half a minute later, that truck is in flames.

The same protester can be seen 20 minutes earlier, in a different video, hitting another truck with a Molotov cocktail, without setting it on fire.

Many of Mr. Maduro’s critics also claim that he ordered medication set on fire during the border standoff. For example, John R. Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, posted on Twitter on March 2: “Maduro has lied about the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, he contracts criminals to burn food and medicine intended for the Venezuelan people.”

Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition, has fervently maintained that the aid contained medicine and that it was burned by Mr. Maduro as well.

Yet this claim too appears to be unsubstantiated, according to videos and interviews.

After being contacted by The Times about these claims, American officials released a more cautious statement describing how the fire began:  “Eyewitness accounts indicate that the fire started when Maduro’s forces violently blocked the entry of humanitarian assistance,” the statement said. It did not specify that Mr. Maduro’s forces lit the fire.

[The New York Times]

This entry was posted in , , by Grant Montgomery.

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