Venezuela broad­ens Colom­bia bor­der clo­sure


Venezuela Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro on Fri­day broad­ened a crack­down on Colom­bian mi­grants and bor­der smug­glers that has drawn strong re­buke by Colom­bian lead­ers and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Speak­ing at a rally in Cara­cas, Maduro ex­panded the state of emer­gency and bor­der clo­sure he called last week to more cities on the western edge of the so­cial­ist South Amer­i­can coun­try and said he would send an ad­di­tional 3,000 sol­diers to the area.

He said he was open to meet­ing with Colom­bian Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos to dis­cuss the mount­ing ten­sions be­tween the two neigh­bor­ing coun­tries wher­ever and when­ever his coun­ter­part chooses, but was leav­ing the next day for a trip to Asia.

The spat erupted when Maduro shut a ma­jor bor­der cross­ing last week to com­bat what he says are ram­pant smug­gling and paramil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties near Colom­bia, and de­clared a state of emer­gency in six western cities. On Fri­day, he ex­tended the de­cree to more mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Venezue­lan of­fi­cials have de­ported more than 1,000 Colom­bian mi­grants and another 5,000 have left vol­un­tar­ily, with some car­ry­ing all of their be­long­ings across a muddy river on a fran­tic mov­ing day.

On Fri­day, the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights called on both sides to work to re­solve the cri­sis, and put ex­tra em­pha­sis on Venezuela’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“We urge the Venezue­lan author­i­ties to en­sure that the hu­man rights of all af­fected in­di­vid­u­als are fully re­spected, par­tic­u­larly in the con­text of any de­por­ta­tions,” said Ru­pert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights.

The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia rebel group also is­sued a state­ment from Ha­vana, where it is ne­go­ti­at­ing a peace deal, say­ing it sup­ported Venezuela’s ac­tions.

A meet­ing of the two coun­tries’ for­eign min­is­ters on Wed­nes­day failed to bear fruit, and on Thurs­day, both coun­tries re­called their am­bas­sadors for con­sul­ta­tions, the diplo­matic equiv­a­lent of lodg­ing a com­plaint.

San­tos called for an emer­gency meet­ing of the Union of South Amer­i­can Na­tions and the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States, say­ing, “We want to tell the world what is hap­pen­ing.” The or­ga­ni­za­tion is ex­pected to meet to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion next week.

Colom­bian crit­ics and gov­ern­ment op­po­nents in­side Venezuela say the crack­down is an at­tempt by Maduro to dis­tract at­ten­tion from soar­ing in­fla­tion and su­per­mar­ket short­ages in the oil-rich na­tion.

The state of emer­gency al­lows Venezue­lan of­fi­cials to search homes with­out a war­rant and to break up public gath­er­ings. Some de­part­ing Colom­bians have com­plained of abuses at the hands of the mil­i­tary in re­cent days, charges the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­nies.

With two bor­der cross­ings closed, the un­der­ground econ­omy has come to a halt, sat­is­fy­ing Venezue­lan of­fi­cials who have long blamed transna­tional mafias for wide­spread short­ages. It also has jeop­ar­dized the liveli­hood of tens of thou­sands of poor Colom­bians who de­pend on the black mar­ket.

Many busi­nesses are closed in Venezuela be­cause Colom­bians can­not get to work, while on the Colom­bian side of the bor­der, res­i­dents in Cu­cuta com­plain of long gas sta­tion lines as the se­cu­rity of­fen­sive cuts off trade, le­gal and oth­er­wise, be­tween the two na­tions.

On Fri­day, San­tos said of­fi­cials had or­dered a hike in the price of gas in the city, and barred gas sta­tions from clos­ing to en­sure that the lines die down.

In Cara­cas, thou­sands of gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers snarled traf­fic as they marched to the pres­i­den­tial palace in sup­port of the new mea­sures, which they said were not aimed at Colom­bian mi­grants them­selves. Maduro danced on­stage to live mu­sic and told cheer­ing sup­port­ers that he had waited long enough for Colom­bia to rein in the vi­o­lence and crime seep­ing over the bor­der.


A home­made poster with the fig­ure of a skele­ton drawn with bat­tle­dress and a mes­sage that reads in Span­ish, “paramil­i­tary killers!”, in ref­er­ence to Colom­bian paramil­i­tary groups, tow­ers over a crowd dur­ing a rally in sup­port of clos­ing the Colom­bian bor­der, in Cara­cas, Venezuela, Fri­day, Aug. 28.

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