Colombia’s Santos Agrees to Meet with Maduro, Accuses Venezuela of Suppressing Citizens’ “Right to Individuality”

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the Bolivarian Revolution had “failed,” and blamed the Venezuelan government for the current border crisis between the two countries in a press conference on Wednesday.

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Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (Photo: EFE)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (Photo: EFE)
Santa Elena, September 9th, 2015. ( Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the Bolivarian Revolution had “failed,” and blamed the Venezuelan government for the current border crisis between the two countries in a press conference on Wednesday.
Santos’ comments are the latest in a diplomatic impasse spurred by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s effort against smuggling and paramilitary violence, including the closure of parts of the 1,400 mile shared border and the deportation of over a thousand undocumented Colombians from the region.
The Colombian leader finally confirmed on Monday his plans to meet with Maduro to discuss the border situation, after weeks of setting conditions and avoiding dialogue.
Santos also accepted the offer of Uruguayan president Tabare Vasquez, who indicated his government’s willingness to mediate the talk. 
Maduro had previously rejected Vasquez’s offer, although the Venezuelan leader embraced the same proposition from Brazil and Argentina’s foreign ministers. 
A date for the meeting has not been set.
Meanwhile, Colombian foreign minister Angela Holguin traveled to New York to meet with United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-Moon yesterday, where she reportedly expressed her government’s concerns regarding the human rights of citizens deported from the conflicted region. 
Santos also accused the Bolivarian government of driving out its own citizens with its “failed” socialist agenda.
“Today there are thousands of Venezuelans coming to Colombia to look for work and start, fleeing crime … the high cost of living, scarcity to come here [where there is a] right to individuality,” the Colombian president said this morning.
But the Venezuelan government has repeatedly pointed to the five million Colombians living within its borders as virtual refugees, marginalized by their country’s neoliberal economy and displaced from internal violence. 
The United Nations also confirmed last week that not one of the 173,600 Colombians with legal refugee status have been deported from Venezuela. 
In response to criticism, Maduro has also pointed to the widespread social services such as housing, healthcare, and education, that are provided to the country’s refugee population, which is currently the largest in Latin America. 
Indeed, the South American leader recently announced the government’s intent to receive 20,000 Syrian families, in response to the Middle Eastern refugee crisis. 
Venezuelan Vice President Jorge Arreaza said yesterday that his country plans to host an international seminar on the border situation next week, to investigate claims of human rights violations in the region.
Earlier this week, Maduro extended the existing state of emergency to include three new municipalities: Mara, Guajira, and Almirante Padilla, while authorizing the freedom of movement for the Wayuu indigenous people who live on both sides of the border.
The closures began after three Venezuelan border soldiers were attacked by alleged Colombian paramilitaries in mid-August. 
Since that time, 32 paramilitaries have been captured and extensive smuggling and trafficking operations have been uncovered and shut down, authorities say.
50 Venezuelan National Guard were also arrested for ties to smuggling, and hundreds of state policemen have been fired. 
The border closure has deeply affected the economies of Colombian border cities, which were up to 80% dependent on contraband gasoline and the commerce of Venezuelan goods.
Official estimates say that 35% of food items subsidized by the Venezuelan government and up to 100,000 gallons of cheap gasoline were being smuggled daily over the shared border, contributing to scarcity and capital flight.