Venezuela Partially Reopens Colombia Border, Closes Canadian Consulates

The move comes as a riot over fuel shortages in Merida leaves one dead.

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Citizens queue up to cross the reopened Colombo-Venezuelan border, avoiding containers which were used to block the crossing in February. (AFP)
Citizens queue up to cross the reopened Colombo-Venezuelan border, avoiding containers which were used to block the crossing in February. (AFP)
By Paul Dobson
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Merida, June 10, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The border between Venezuela and Colombia has been partially reopened after nearly four months.

The principal crossing posts of the Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander International Bridges – which connect Venezuela’s Táchira State with Colombia’s Northern Santander Department – were both reopened on Saturday between 6am and 9pm for pedestrian crossing. They still remain closed for vehicles.

The lesser used northern Paraguachon crossing and southern Paez and Ayacucho crossings, however, continue to be closed, as does the Tienditas International Bridge in Táchira State, which was never inaugurated.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro described the decision as an “exercise of sovereignty.”

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The border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia. (Telesur, modified by Paul Dobson / Venezuelanalysis)
The border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia. (Telesur, modified by Paul Dobson / Venezuelanalysis)

Following the re-opening, Colombian migratory authorities reported a “slight increase” in the number of people entering the country, describing conditions at the borders as“normal.”

The general director of Colombian Migration, Christian Kruger, disclosed that more than 34,000 Venezuelans entered Colombia on Saturday, with nearly 40,000 returning to Venezuela the same day.

The 2,219 kilometre-long Colombo-Venezuelan border was closed on February 22, one day before self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaido unsuccessfully attempted to force humanitarian “aid” into Venezuela with the assistance of Colombian and US authorities. Diplomatic relations between the countries, which were broken on February 23, have not been restored.

The border closure forced thousands of Venezuelan and Colombian citizens to use illegal “green road” crossings to visit family, commute to work, attend school or purchase products. The crossings are predominantly controlled by armed groups linked to Colombia’s civil conflict and require a significant cash payment to transit.

The opening of the Tachira crossing comes as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ office released new figures on Venezuelan migration, claiming that more than four million citizens have now left the country since 2015.

The Maduro administration has contested the figure, accusing the UN body of “inflating” figures to receive extra funding and allegedly bolster US efforts to oust the government.

Reciprocal diplomatic measures

Caracas also announced that it is to “temporarily” close the Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal consulates in Canada on Saturday, in what it calls a “reciprocal” measure. The Ottawa embassy will continue to function, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza informed.

The move, he says, is a “political decision” responding to the “continued hostility” from Ottawa, which he accused of being “disciplined in its subordination” to Washington. Canada announced the closure of its Caracas embassy on Sunday, citing via restrictions.

Venezuela is also to start requiring visas for all Peruvians entering the country as of June 15 in response to a similar measure rolled out by Lima last week. According to Venezuelan migratory authorities, there are 500,000 Peruvians living in the country, while around 800,000 Venezuelans now reside in Peru.

Both Peru and Canada recognise Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president” and have called on Maduro to step down. Canada has followed Washington in applying a number of sanctions against Venezuela, which international bodies describe as “illegal.” A recent independent report estimated that sanctions have caused around 40,000 deaths in Venezuela since 2017.

Riot over fuel shortages leaves one dead

A man was killed Saturday during an altercation with National Guardsmen and police at a gas station in Merida State, where fuel shortages have created queues of up to nine days at gas stations.

Wilderman Paredes (32), who had been queuing to fill his tank in Los Llanitos de Tabay was allegedly involved in riots which broke out upon the arrival of the fuel tanker. He later died from a bullet wound in the throat. Local Mayor Jose Otalora told Reuters that his death was “regrettable” and suggested that Paredes was drunk at the time. Another man has reportedly been seriously wounded but is in a stable condition.

It remains unclear what sparked the riot, but on-the-spot reporters allege that it began when citizens protested against acts of corruption by local National Guard personnel. Others have claimed that the conflict was triggered by citizens attempting to impede the closure of the gas station at 10:30pm. Minor altarcations were also reported in other nearby stations Sunday without further loss of life.

The death follows that of Humberto Trejo, who died in the same region on June 3 from a heart attack while waiting several days in the gas station queue.

While the west of the country has suffered from moderate fuel shortages over the past couple years due to declining production and cross-border contraband, the situation has become increasingly critical nationwide after US sanctions prohibiting gasoline exports to Venezuela came into full effect on April 28, cutting off Venezuela from 54,000 barrels per day (bpd) of fuel. While crude production was close to 834,000 bpd in May, the South American country is estimated to produce only 200,000 bpd of gasoline, short of the national demand of 250,000 bpd.

More recently on June 6, the US Treasury Department hit Venezuela with new sanctions, prohibiting the export of diluents to the South American country. Venezuela relies on imports of diluents to blend its heavy crude into exportable grades, as well as produce gasoline and diesel for internal consumption.

Farmers and opposition leaders claim that up to 60 percent of crops have been lost in Venezuela’s productive Andean region due to a lack of fuel for transport.

Edited by Lucas Koerner from Caracas.

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