A crisis between Venezuela and Colombia erupted on August 19 when three Venezuelan army officers were wounded by suspected paramilitary gunmen operating in Colombia, leading to the closure of a major border crossing with Colombia in the western state of Tachira as ordered by Maduro. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro escalated his country’s spat with Colombia on Friday by expanding the partial closure of their shared border to four new frontier towns. More than 1,000 Colombians have been deported from Venezuela as part of a crackdown on smuggling in the area.
“I am here to make sure our fellow Colombians get the services they need”, Santos said as he began the tour of Cucuta, a far northeastern city of about 700,00 with close business ties to Venezuela and which has been on edge. Some of the roughly 50 people waiting to row across Saturday under the eyes of Venezuelan soldiers were locals seeking to fill prescriptions for medicines hard to find in Venezuela.
Recently, hundreds of Colombian refugees in Venezuela have reportedly waded across a border river with personal belongings back into Colombia, saying that they were forced out from their shelters in Venezuela and that they feared what might happen next if they stayed on.
The Venezuelan border operations have sought to clamp down on the criminal groups and activities, with several paramilitary heads captured already.
The suddenly deteriorating situation did not come out of surprise, as rampant cross-border crimes, kidnapping and drug trafficking have aroused serious concerns from Venezuela, which accused Colombian paramilitaries of smuggling highly-subsidized goods from Venezuela to Colombia, detrimental to the interests of the Venezuela people.
In a press statement, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the administration of President Barack Obama “supports efforts by Colombia and Venezuela to resolve the dispute diplomatically”.
Venezuela’s president and foreign minister will not be able to attend any unilateral meetings until after September 7 when they return from Asia. “Many things link us to Venezuela”, Holguin told.
The Organization of American States plans to hold an emergency session on Monday to discuss the situation, and foreign min-isters from South America are to meet on Thursday. Maduro has said 3,000 troops were being deployed to search “high and low” for Colombian paramilitaries, whom he has blamed for last week’s shooting.
“Colombians and Venezuelan live together here, and we’re working to guarantee that everyone can live well from their work”, Arreaza said.
“I’m going because I’m just fed up”, she said. “We will not lend our dance to a tyrant”, said conservative former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has long waged a war of words with Maduro and his mentor, the late President Hugo Chavez.