Caracas, September 24th 2015 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro moved to close the Colombian-Venezuela border in Amazonas state on Tuesday night, just 24 hours after having agreed to “normalise relations” with his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos.
The Southwestern border of Amazonas state is the fourth to have been shut down between the two countries over the past six weeks at the behest of the Venezuelan government after an alleged paramilitary attack in Tachira state left three Venezuelan troops hospitalised earlier in August.
While tensions flared between the countries following the initial closure, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has denied that the latest move to close the Amazonas border undermines the agreement reached with his Colombian counterpart earlier in the week.
“From tomorrow, the foundations of a new peaceful border will be established, and we will seek to put into place the steps to ensure that it works,” said the head of state.
The Venezuelan government maintains that its border towns with Colombia have become smuggling hotbeds in recent years, particularly for the contraband of Venezuelan state subsidised food and oil.
FOREX centres operating at the border are also accused of speculating against the Venezuelan bolivar in a bid to undermine the country’s currency and economy.
The original border closure in Tachira, originally implemented to prevent the perpetrators of the attack against the Venezuelan military from escaping, was extended shortly afterwards through the implementation of a 60 day “state of exception” due to mounting concerns regarding contraband activity.
The state of exception is outlined in Venezuela’s 1999 Constitution as a potential measure that can be adopted when the security of its citizens, the nation or state institutions are threatened.
The measure was later extended to the states of Apure and Zulia, where Venezuelan troops were also deployed.
The latest border closure and the state of exception in Amazonas will be the first to be implemented and managed by an opposition governor, Liborio Guarulla. Nonetheless, reports indicate that soldiers will not be sent to patrol the frontier.
Since the initial closure in August, over 1500 Colombians residing in Venezuela without an official immigration status have also been deported, mostly from the makeshift city of La Invasion in Tachira.
The move provoked a backlash from human rights organisations who maintain that many Colombians had fled state and paramilitary violence at home.
Colombia is currently involved in ongoing peace talks to bring an end to Latin America’s longest running civil war between the insurgent group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and rightwing paramilitary organisations.
Over five million Colombians are estimated to have sought and been granted refuge in neighbouring Venezuela and the government of Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez are credited with having played a vital role in initiating and mediating the historic peace talks. Although Maduro has denied that human rights violations have been committed by national security forces, he has reportedly promised Bogota a full investigation into the treatment of deportees.
While fanning the flames of discontent in Colombia, the border closures have proved generally popular with citizens in Venezuela, who blame racketeering networks on the border for participating in an economic war against Venezuela’s leftist government and creating product shortages at home. Dozens of military personnel were also arrested for facilitating contraband activity in the wake of the closures.
Difficult but Necessary
Despite the tensions both governments have shown increasing willingness to dialogue over the last week, and the two respective heads of state sustained a meeting on Monday in Quito’s presidential palace in the presence of the presidents of Ecuador and Uruguay, Rafael Correa and Tabaré Vasquez.
In comments made in an interview with Colombian news agency Caracol, Colombian Foreign Relations Minister María Ángela Holguín described the meeting between the two presidents as “very positive” as well as “difficult but necessary”.
The politician also appeared to take partial responsibility for the closures, stating that the Colombian state had failed to meet its social obligations on its border.
“It cannot be that… Puerto Carreno (village on Colombian border) has 24 hour access to electricity because we are connected up to the Venezuelan energy system…The Colombian state has to take the responsibility for its population,” she stated.
Holguín went on to confirm that despite the agreement reached between the two presidents on Monday, they had not discussed reopening the border crossings in the immediate future.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it remains closed for a few days whilst those measures [against smuggling] are taken… If we don’t work together, which is what has happened over the past year, then that border [Tachira] will be impossible,” commented the chancellor.
Nonetheless, the many citizens with family members on both sides of the divide are anxiously awaiting news that the borders between the two countries will return to normal as soon as possible.