Colombians leave Venezuela in droves over border crisis

August 27, 2015

More than 1,000 Colombians who were living in Venezuela have crossed into Colombia as a border spat between the two neighbours intensifies.

Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a border post near the city of Cucuta.

He also announced that Colombians living illegally in Venezuela would be deported.

The move followed an incident last Wednesday when smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez is due to meet her Colombian counterpart Maria Angela Holguin later on Wednesday to discuss the crisis.

River crossing

President Maduro at first said that the border would be closed for 72 hours. He has since extended the measure indefinitely.

According to the Venezuelan authorities, more than 1,000 Colombians living illegally in Venezuela have been handed over to the Colombian authorities.

Many others have crossed into Colombia over the river Tachira, which divides the two countries.

Some accused the Venezuelan armed forces of forcing them out of their homes and destroying their houses.

Referring to instances where Venezuelan security forces marked houses for demolition by spray painting them with the letter “D”, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said: “Marking houses to later demolish them is totally unacceptable and reminds one of bitter episodes in history which cannot be allowed to recur.”

President Maduro says the expulsions are part of a crackdown on smuggling gangs.

Generous government subsidies on staple foods and extremely cheap petrol in Venezuela mean smugglers can make handsome profits buying goods there and selling them in Colombia.

The Venezuelan government estimates that 40% of subsidised good are lost to smugglers.

It says the scarcity of staples such as corn flour, milk and basic cosmetic items is in large part due to this illegal trade.

Critics of Mr Maduro’s government, however, argue that the scarcity is down to mismanagement.

President Maduro also declared a state of emergency in five border provinces, which allows the authorities to search homes and businesses without a warrant.

An extra 1,500 troops have been deployed to search for smugglers and members of paramilitary groups which are active in the area.

A suspect in last week’s attack on the soldiers has been arrested. He is Venezuelan.

Colombians leave Venezuela in droves over border crisis