Mérida, October 7, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The main Venezuela-Colombia border crossings have opened for the first time since February 2019.
The bridges connecting the Ureña and San Antonio municipalities in Táchira state to the Colombian town of Cúcuta began allowing pedestrians and vehicles to cross on Tuesday as the Nicolás Maduro government looks to boost trade in the region.
“Considering the brotherhood and cooperation between the people of Colombia and Venezuela, we have decided to open the border,” Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez announced in a press conference.
Government-appointed Táchira “protector” Freddy Bernal published videos on social media showing the removal of the containers blocking the Simón Bolívar bridge, the largest border crossing. He added that some 4,600 Venezuelan children will resume in-person classes in Cúcuta. Bernal is running for governor in the November 21 regional “mega-elections.”
Rodríguez stated that the Venezuelan authorities would fulfill their responsibilities and accused the Iván Duque government of allowing “paramilitary and drug trafficking groups” to prosper in the area.
Maduro likewise reacted to the move in a televised broadcast on Wednesday, claiming that trade in the region could be as high as US $7 billion annually. He called on Colombian businesses to ignore the political differences between both countries and bring production and investment to Venezuela.
“How many profit opportunities have Colombian businessmen lost because of Duque’s ideological extremism?” Maduro asked. However, in a later segment of the broadcast, campesinos from Táchira state called on the government to levy tariffs on Colombian products that flood the market and provide unfair competition for local production.
The 2,200-kilometer frontier had been shut since early 2019 when Caracas broke diplomatic relations with Bogotá after Duque supported efforts led by self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó to force a “humanitarian aid” convoy into Venezuela.
The highly militarized border region has been a constant source of tension between the two nations, with frequent accusations of illegal incursions from both sides. The Venezuelan armed forces clashed in March and April with what it termed Colombian “irregular armed groups” operating in the southern state of Apure.
Though cross-border economic activity was reduced with the main passageways closed and the Covid-19 pandemic, it also allowed armed groups that operate in the area to run unofficial crossings known as “trochas,” with law enforcement often turning a blind eye. The porous frontier historically has likewise been a hub for smuggling, especially Venezuelan subsidized food and fuel.
Duque commented on the crossing reopening on Monday, warning that it should be an “orderly” process. For his part, Guaidó drew widespread derision on social media after claiming his office was coordinating the border operation with the Colombian president.
Venezuelan authorities emphasized that they will set up strict Covid-19 controls, including the disinfection of merchandise and requiring proof of vaccination from commuters.
Venezuela has fared much better than its western neighbor in fighting the pandemic. According to official data, the country has registered 378,000 cases and 4,500 deaths so far, compared to almost 5 million and 125,000, respectively, in Colombia.
Caracas is looking to ramp up vaccination efforts ahead of a planned return to in-person classes countrywide and loosened quarantine restrictions to foster retail activities in the final months of the year.
The government has set a 70 percent immunization rate target for the end of the year, and people are now allowed to get their shots without an appointment after special risk groups were prioritized in the first stage. Vaccination efforts were boosted by a 900,000 dose shipment of Cuba’s Abdala shot that arrived on Sunday.