Pinera's Colombia Border Trip Carries Risks for Chilean Leader

(Bloomberg) -- Chilean President Sebastian Pinera is taking a risky bet with his announced trip to Cucuta, Colombia on Friday to deliver humanitarian aid at the border with Venezuela.

Pinera, a center-right politician and steadfast opponent of the government of Nicolas Maduro, is gambling with his political capital, according to political scientist Patricio Navia.

“Pinera is investing in a Trump-controlled project,” Navia said in a phone interview. “If Maduro stays in power or there is U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, it would be very damaging for Pinera’s presidency.”

The U.S. has taken the lead in flying in food and medicine to the border town ahead of plans by the opposition to try and push the aid across the border to distribute to needy Venezuelans on Feb. 23. With Maduro vowing to block the attempt and mocking the offered assistance as veiled intervention and “crumbs,” there’s a chance for conflict.

Pinera's Colombia Border Trip Carries Risks for Chilean Leader

On the other hand, if the efforts by Venezuela’s National Assembly President Juan Guaido ultimately prove successful in ousting Maduro, Pinera would benefit at home and potentially energize his base, Navia said.

Besides the possibility that the aid delivery fails, the Chilean leader is facing criticism by the opposition for the trip amid problems at home. Forest fires in the south and floods in the north require his attention more than foreign affairs, they say.

With Richard Branson organizing a pop concert to raise money for the aid efforts a day before the showdown, at least he may be guaranteed a good show.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.