Late last night, a Venezuelan army patrol came under fire from unknown attackers along the Colombian border in Tachira state, leaving three Venezuelan soldiers and one civilian injured. As a result, Maduro ordered the closing of the border crossings at San Antonio del Tachira and Ureña closed for 72 hours.
Speaking via telephone to VTV last night, Maduro said:
I’ve given orders to immediately close the border with Colombia, in San Antonio del Tachira and Ureña, for the next 72 hours. I’ve given the National Bolivarian Armed Forces precise instructions. I ask for the support of the people of Tachira, of San Antonio, of Ureña, and of all the border regions.
Maduro explained that the attack occurred when the patrol “were fighting this mafia of paramilitary bachaqueros [re-sellers] who come from Colombia”.
The closure affects three bridges that connect Colombia and Venezuela: the Puente International Simon Bolivar near San Antonio del Tachira, and the Union de Boca Grita and Francisco Paula Santander bridges near Ureña.
This morning, the Venezuelan army chief in charge of the Andes Region, Efrain Valasco, said that National Guard and army troops would conduct searches in the area for the perpetrators, and suggested that paramilitaries were to blame for the attack:
We’re going to conduct an exhaustive house-by-house, deposito por deposito [?], sector by sector, in San Antonio del Tachira and in Ureña (…) where we know that there is a continued presence of groups that generate violence, paramilitary groups which are attacking the security and safety of our nation.
Speaking from the Miraflores Palace in Caracas today, Maduro stressed the role of the bachaqueros in the attack, saying:
Today, Venezuela understands that the phenomenon known has bachaqueo comes from the border with Colombia, from paramilitary mafias that take our gas away through contraband.
The PSUV blames the severe food and basic necessity shortages affecting the country on an “economic war” waged on the country by – among others – Colombian paramilitaries. The bachaqueros – people who sell scarce basic necessity items on the street at a premium – play an important role in the economic war, the government claims.
Below, some pictures from the border this morning:
Maduro Calls for Colombia’s Co-Operation
During his televise speech from the Miraflores Palace today, Maduro called for “better policies to reform the border”, and said that he had asked Foreign Relations Minister Delcy Rodriguez to reach out to Colombia in search of a solution to the issue:
I’ve asked Chancellor Delcy Rodriguez to organize a special meeting for the governors and Ministers from both countries so that new measures can be taken to address this situation that affects both sides of the border.
In a press conference earlier today, Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Angela Holgin said that she had spoken to her Venezuelan counterpart about the issue, and that the two had agreed to meet on September 14 “to work together” towards a solution.
Holgin also said that Colombian authorities reacted “immediately” to the attack last night, and that they:
… immediately reinforced the border so that the criminals could not cross into Colombia.
Holgin also explained that the Colombian police is on the look-out for the suspected perpetrators of the attack. She said that Venezuelan authorities had told her that it is likely that at least one of the attackers was injured in the firefight, and that Colombian police were searching local hospitals as a result.
Looting Reported in Guasipati
Twitter users reported looting in Guasipati, Bolivar state, starting earlier this afternoon. According to reports from people on the scene, the looting began after a truck carrying basic necessities arrived at a local supermarket, where a large crowd of people waited.
Dario Graffe, a student leader with an organization called UDO, said that the authorities at the scene were selling packages of powdered soap for Bs. 390 per 2.7 kilogram packets, a price which the crowd apparently found too high.
Below, some pictures from the scene:
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