Venezuelans Stream into Colombia

The potential for a migrant crisis grows.

Venezuelans Stream into Colombia

As Venezuela is faced with a constitutional crisis, tension continue to mount in the country. This situation was reflected most poignantly at the beginning of the week in an eloquent image repeated at several points of the border with Colombia. Tens of thousands of people – some 33,000 on Monday – crossed to the neighbouring country in the face of the uncertainty and shortages that have hit Venezuela.

The most popular border crossing was Cúcuta, the capital of the department of Norte de Santander, where more than 26,000 citizens travelled. Thousands of them returned the same day after buying food and commodities. About 2,000 Venezuelans, according to the Colombian authorities , entered with the intention of traveling to Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

A Complex Border

The border between Colombia and Venezuela has been disputed on several occasions by both countries. The 2,200 kilometre border facilitates tens of thousands of trips per day.

In March, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos protested against his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro, for the incursion of a hundred soldiers who settled for two days on the banks of the Arauca River. “For Colombia it is totally unacceptable the situation that has occurred,” said the president. Now his Government has tightened controls at the border to deal with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease detected at the end of June coming from Venezuela. Measures include a greater military presence at the border, strengthening aerial surveillance and even rewards for those who report cattle smuggling in the area. This plan seeks to protect about 450,000 affected farmers.

Residents in Venezuela who have already requested a document called the Border Mobility Card, recently introduced to regulate migration, amount to about 560,000. The Maduro regime closed the border in August 2015 and reopened it a year later.

Tensions and insults

Relations between the two countries are not at their best. The Venezuelan government has openly accused Colombia of conspiring, along with the CIA and Mexico, to overthrow Maduro. And the successor of Hugo Chávez increasingly addresses his Colombian counterpart with outbursts of insults. “President Santos has to ask for my blessing, compadre because we are his parents. Saints, ask for the blessing, compadre. Bow down, bow to your father. I am your father,” he said recently.

The Colombian Foreign Ministry strongly denied the existence of a plan of interference or any intention to intervene in any way in Venezuela in the future. But Maduro did not like that Santos asked expressly, on at least two occasions, to revoke the elections of the National Constituent Assembly, thus aligning himself with the opposition to the Government.

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