Venezuela reopens border crossing with Colombia

June 09, 2019

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People walk on the Simon Bolivar cross-border bridge between Venezuela and Colombia on Saturday.—Reuters
People walk on the Simon Bolivar cross-border bridge between Venezuela and Colombia on Saturday.—Reuters

CCUTA/HAVANA: Thousands crossed into Colombia on Saturday to buy food and medicine after Venezuela’s President Nicols Maduro reopened a border that had been shut down for the past four months.

Long lines of Venezuelans stood at two international bridges near the city of Ccuta waiting to have their documents checked by Colombian officials, with some carrying children on their shoulders. Venezuelan border guards dressed in green uniforms helped to control the crowd.

The South American nation’s socialist government ordered the borders with Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Brazil and Colombia closed in February as the opposition tried to deliver food and medical supplies into the country.

Most of the aid was provided largely by the United States, a key ally of opposition leader Juan Guaid who declared himself to be Venezuela’s rightful president in January. But Maduro dismissed the aid as an infringement on Venezuela’s sovereignty and prohibited it from entering.

In May, the government reopened borders with Aruba and Brazil, but the Simon Bolivar International Bridge the Francisco de Paula Santander International Bridge with Colombia have remained closed up until now.

With the reopening, a flood of people seized on the opportunity to enter into neighbouring Colombia and secure items that are all but unattainable in Venezuela.

The once-wealthy oil nation is now facing severe shortages of basic goods and hyperinflation that is expected to surpass 10 million percent this year, according to a recent IMF estimate. The chaos has been further aggravated by US sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports and has forced an estimated 5,000 people to leave the country each day, according to the United Nation’s refugee agency.

Socialist Party deputy meets Castro

Venezuela’s ruling Socialist Party Vice President Diosdado Cabello met with Cuban Communist Party chief Raul Castro on Friday in Havana in a show of unity as the United States steps up pressure on the governments of the allied nations.

In a news conference at the Havana airport, Cabello said they had discussed preparations for the Sao Paulo forum of leftist Latin American and Caribbean groups in Caracas next month and how to better integrate their two nations.

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Cuban Communist Party deputy leader Jose Ramon Machado Ventura took part in the meeting with Cabello, who had earlier on his two-day trip to Havana also met separately with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.

“We need to be united because we have a very powerful enemy in common,” Cabello told reporters.

Cuban state-run media said that Castro had “reiterated Cuba’s firm support to the Venezuelan people and government”.

The United States is trying to force out Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in favour of an interim government and new elections, and has charged Cuba’s security forces with propping up Maduro, accusations that Havana has denied.

This week, Washington tightened its decades-old embargo on Cuba by imposing heavier travel restrictions in what it said was a bid to pressure the country over its involvement in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the Lima Group regional bloc of 12 nations has taken a different tack of late and is courting Cuba to help find a solution to the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, which has caused an exodus of millions and sharp increases in malnutrition and the spread of preventable disease. Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Friday Cuba would have a role to play in Venezuela’s “return to democracy” after holding the second bilateral meeting with her Cuban counterpart Rodriguez in a month.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2019