Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson said he hopes a fundraising concert he is organising on behalf of Venezuela will convince soldiers to disobey President Nicolas Maduro and allow shipments of humanitarian aid to pass the border.
Sir Richard said he had postponed a planned test flight into space by his Virgin Galactic company in California to join dozens of pop artists from Latin America in the Colombian city of Cucuta for the Live Aid-style concert.
He said he and a Colombian entrepreneur friend got the idea for a concert after speaking by phone with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and his political mentor, Leopoldo Lopez.
The US and dozens of other countries recognise Mr Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president.
Sir Richard said: “For those people who think Venezuela is a utopia and Venezuela isn’t suffering, they should really come here into the crowd today and ask them why they are leaving.”
Latin rock star Juanes is one of the performers taking part in Sir Richard’s Venezuela Aid Live concert on the Colombian side of the border crossing which officials have renamed the “Unity Bridge”.
However, there is a rival event, as Mr Maduro’s socialist government promised its own three-day festival under the banner “Hands Off Venezuela” on the other side of the border.
The concerts come as heightened tensions in Venezuela left a woman dead and a dozen injured near the border with Brazil.
It is the first deadly clash over the opposition’s attempts to bring in emergency food and medicine.
Emilio Gonzalez, mayor of the Venezuela border town of Gran Sabana, identified the shooting victim as Zoraida Rodriguez, who was a part of an indigenous group that clashed with the Venezuela National Guard and army a day after Mr Maduro ordered the border with Brazil closed.
Meanwhile, several thousand people were already gathered in a large field three hours before the concert in Colombia was set to begin.
As crowds wore white and carried Venezuelan flags, several uniformed officers on horseback and on foot stood guard near the border.
“This government is going to fall,” people began chanting, in reference to Mr Maduro’s government. “It’s going to fall.”
As Venezuela’s political turmoil drags on, allies of Mr Guaido are hoping the massive concert and aid move marks a turning point from which a transitional government is consolidated.
But Mr Maduro has shown no signs of backing down, and analysts warn that whatever happens over the next two days may not yield a conclusive victory for either side.
Sir Richard agreed to back a concert in early February after being approached by Mr Guaido, Mr Lopez – an opposition leader under house arrest – and others including Colombian entrepreneur Bruno Ocampo, who said the magnate is now so committed to getting humanitarian aid into Venezuela that he will personally stay until Saturday to help ensure that food and medical supplies make it across the border.
Similar to the original 1985 Live Aid concert, which raised funds to relieve the Ethiopian famine, Sir Richard has set a goal to raise 100 million dollars (£76 million) within 60 days.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into at the time,” Mr Ocampo said.
“But in less than 24 hours we are going to witness something historic.”
The concert will not be the first time artists have used music to try and simmer tensions at the unstable Colombia-Venezuela border.
A concert known as Paz Sin Fronteras – Peace Without Borders – was held in 2008 after a diplomatic flare-up that drew Venezuelan troops to the Colombia border.
That event was held on the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, which 33,000 people now use to enter Colombia each day.
Miguel Mendoza, a Venezuelan musician who will be performing on Friday and won a Latin Grammy in 2010 as part of the pop duo Chino & Nacho, said: “Throughout history, art has had a big role in fostering change.
“Music, above all, has a magnificent power.”
Six hundred tonnes of aid, largely donated by the US, has been sitting in a storage facility at what is widely known as the Tienditas International Bridge for two weeks.
Even as several million Venezuelans flee and those who remain struggle to find basic goods like food and antibiotics, Mr Maduro denies that any crisis exists.
He contends the aid is a ploy by the Trump administration to overthrow his government.
The military has placed a large tanker and two containers in the middle of the bridge to block the aid’s progress.
“Trump should worry about the poor in his own country,” Mr Maduro said this week.
Days after Sir Richard launched his concert, Mr Maduro’s government announced that not only would they hold a rival festival but that they would also deliver more than 20,000 boxes of food for poor Colombians in Cucuta on Friday and Saturday.
The sharp rhetoric from both sides has put many in the border city of 700,000 on edge.