Merseyside, United Kingdom, February 15 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday that his government would seek to schedule a bilateral meeting with neighbouring Colombia over security concerns along their shared border.
Speaking at a press conference with international and national journalists, Maduro stated that the aim of the meeting would be to create a “peace and security plan” along the notoriously difficult border.
“The [Defence] Minister [Vladmir] Padrino yesterday called Minister [Carlos] Villegas and they agreed, for the weekend, to fix a date for a bilateral meeting between the ministers of Venezuela and Colombia,” said the president.
Maduro also stated that he was concerned about the smuggling of Venezuelan food, cash, and gasoline over the border – issues which led his government to unilaterally close its side between 2015-2016.
The head of state’s announcement comes after he criticised Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ handling of the influx of Venezuelan migrants into the neighbouring country, and accused him of promoting a xenophobic campaign against Venezuelans.
Earlier this week, the Colombian government revealed that it had deported 700 Venezuelans from the border town of Cucuta since the end of January, and said that it would tighten up immigration controls to stem the flow of Venezuelans migrants.
The Colombian government estimates that around 450,000 Venezuelan migrants have entered the country in the last 18 months seeking respite from Venezuela’s deep three year economic crisis.
Nonetheless, Maduro said that official numbers did not equate to a “massive exodus” as several regional governments, including Colombia, had claimed. He also reminded the public that millions of Colombians had made Venezuela their home in previous decades after fleeing civil war in their home country, and continued to live there today.
“Colombia has 10 million of its citizens abroad… and 5.6 million in Venezuela,” he stated.
“Nobody has made a campaign out of that… the UN (United Nations) has emphasised Venezuela’s exemplary conduct in receiving refugees,” he added.
The head of state said that it was the right of Venezuelans to leave the country if they so desired, but told them that they would be welcome if they chose to return. He also highlighted the importance of state subsidised public services provided by the government in Venezuela, such as gas and water, which he said citizens would not benefit from in other countries.