Venezuela seeks to de­port some 800 Colom­bians


Venezue­lan se­cu­rity forces have rounded up hun­dreds of Colom­bians for de­por­ta­tion as part of a se­cu­rity of­fen­sive along the coun­tries’ shared bor­der.

Gov. Jose Gre­go­rio Vielma Mora of Tachira state said Sun­day that 791 Colom­bians liv­ing in Venezuela il­le­gally had been handed over to Colom­bia’s con­sulate gen­eral as a re­sult of the four-day crack­down against smug­glers and crim­i­nal gangs op­er­at­ing along the 2,200-kilo­me­ter (1,400 miles) bor­der.

Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro last week closed a ma­jor cross­ing be­tween the two coun­tries and de­clared a state of emer­gency in sev­eral western cities af­ter three army of­fi­cers were shot and wounded by gun­men he said be­longed to paramil­i­tary gangs op­er­at­ing from Colom­bia.

While the as­sailants have yet to be caught, the in­ci­dent trig­gered an an­gry re­sponse from Maduro, who sent 1,500 troops to pa­trol for Colom­bian smug­glers and gangs he blames for con­tribut­ing to ram­pant vi­o­lence and wide­spread short­ages in Venezuela.

Colom­bian In­te­rior Min­is­ter Juan Fer­nando Cristo trav­eled to the bor­der city of Cu­cuta to over­see hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to the de­por­tees. He said author­i­ties are try­ing to re­unite 37 mi­nors who were sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies dur­ing the dragnet.

Vielma Mora de­nied re­ports of abuses, which the AP was un­able to ver­ify, say­ing that not a sin­gle fam­ily had been bro­ken up and all those de­ported were treated with re­spect.

For­mer Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Al­varo Uribe, a fierce critic of Maduro, said on Twit­ter that he plans to travel Mon­day to Cu­cuta to ex­press “sol­i­dar­ity with those mis­treated by the dic­ta­tor.”

A Colom­bian of­fi­cial closely fol­low­ing the cri­sis said that while the sit­u­a­tion was tense there was lit­tle to sug­gest Venezue­lan author­i­ties’ treat­ment of the de­por­tees vi­o­lated in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tions. The of­fi­cial, who was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the is­sue pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said most of the de­por­tees were liv­ing with­out per­mis­sion in Venezuela and likely in­volved in con­tra­band ac­tiv­i­ties.

Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos said Maduro’s dra­matic ac­tion would hurt com­mu­ni­ties on both sides of the bor­der. For­eign min­is­ters from both coun­tries are ex­pected to meet Wed­nes­day in a bid to re­solve the cri­sis.

“Clos­ing the bor­der brings prob­lems. It gen­er­ates a lot of un­ease and forces a lot of in­no­cent peo­ple, in­clud­ing chil­dren, to clean up the mess left by oth­ers,” San­tos said Satur­day.

Op­po­nents of Maduro’s ad­min­is­tra­tion have de­nounced the mo­bi­liza­tion of troops as an at­tempt to dis­tract at­ten­tion from a deep eco­nomic cri­sis. The Demo­cratic Unity Al­liance called on the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to take note of what it con­sid­ers a clear provo­ca­tion likely to gen­er­ate eco­nomic losses and threaten leg­isla­tive elec­tions sched­uled for De­cem­ber.

As part of a gov­ern­ment crack­down against con­tra­band, the gov­ern­ment over the past year had al­ready or­dered night­time clo­sure of the bor­der in Tachira, de­ployed more troops and tough­ened jail sen­tences for smug­gling. In to­tal, the gov­ern­ment says more than 6,000 peo­ple have been ar­rested for smug­gling in the past year.


In this March 7, 2008 file photo, smug­glers cross the Tachira River car­ry­ing Venezuela ga­so­line into Colom­bia, in Cu­cuta, at the Colom­bian bor­der with Venezuela.

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