Caracas, August 14th 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – In an attempt to combat rising border smuggling and contraband sales, Venezuelan officials have decided to close the border between Venezuela and Colombia between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., a measure announced earlier this week.
The operation, which applies to travel by air, land, and water, will last for at least 30 days, after which officials will evaluate its impact and decide on further measures, noted General Vladimir Padrino López, the head of the Strategic Operational Command of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB).
According to figures from the Venezuelan state, smuggled goods across the 2,200 km border between the two countries include up to 40 percent of basic goods and 100,000 barrels of oil per day, for a total loss of $3.6 billion USD per year. As gasoline and many basic goods are subsidized by the Venezuelan government, various groups routinely bring them into Colombia to sell at inflated prices, contributing to shortages within Venezuela and hurting producers in Colombia.
The border closure comes a week after a meeting between Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos in which both sides expressed concern over contraband and announced a “meticulously-detailed shock plan” to combat it. In a press conference yesterday, however, Colombian Foreign Minister María Angela Holguín maintained that the decision to close the border was made unilaterally by the Venezuelan government.
“We don’t think that closing the border is a measure that will control the contraband. Contraband should be controlled with internal measures,” Holguín said.
Leaders belonging to the Venezuelan opposition voiced similar opinions. Two-time presidential candidate and Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles called the decision a “gigantic stupidity” on Twitter, adding that “more checkpoints, more controls, and therefore more corruption will not resolve [Venezuela’s] economic chaos.”
The Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fedecámaras) in Táchira state, an association representing business owners in one of the regional states which border Colombia, declared the situation an “emergency” in a press conference yesterday.
The group noted that the border closing had affected 150 companies with 24-hour shifts, some of whose workers rely on crossing the border at night to return home or go to work, along with several thousand Venezuelan university students studying in Colombia, who were recently unable to return home after finishing class at 10 p.m.
To those complaints, Táchira governor José Vielma Mora responded that officials would grant special passes to businesses with night shifts and students that would allow them to cross the border at night. Mora added that the measures had already recovered more than 35,000 liters of gasoline, 17,000 liters of diesel, and basic food products.
Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s vice president and head of the recently-created National Commission for the Fight Against Contraband, also argued that the border closing had produced “extraordinary results.”
The measures demonstrated, he added, that “this government, and the president in particular, serves no particular economic group, no group of the bourgeoisie, no group of the transnational bourgeoisie – it does not protect the interests of any of these groups.”