At an event last night, Maduro laid out the conditions he wants met before he gives the order to re-open the border crossings in Tachira. He accused the government of Colombia of siding with the paramilitaries and smugglers instead of with the citizens of the Norte de Santander department, which borders Tachira state.

Maduro said that he would open the borders “when all the socio-economic rights of the Venezuelans living in the area” are reinstated, and not before the border became “healthy, legal… and peaceful”.

Maduro also said that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was “being lied to” about the situation facing the deportees, despite the fact that Santos personally visited camps set up to house them in Cucuta on Wednesday. …

Speaking directly to the Colombian government, Maduro made a series of more concrete demands:

Maduro: I hope that the Colombian government comes to its senses and starts to protect the Colombian people along the Venezuelan border. That’s what I’m asking for. For the Colombian government to wake up and instead of protecting paramilitaries and smugglers, protect the people of Norte de Santander and Cucuta. That’s what I’m hoping for here. I want the Colombian government to prohibit the sale Venezuelan products taken out of the country through smuggling and bachaqueo on Colombian territory. Until he does this, I won’t open the border. And the Colombian government must stop the Bolivar from getting attacked in Cucuta and Colombia. Until he does this, I won’t open the border.

Finally, Maduro repeated a highly contested claim that 121,000 Colombians have immigrated to Venezuela in the past 7 months. The figure contradicts official statistics from Migracion Colombia, which maintains that only about 8,000 Colombians have moved to Venezuela in 2015.

Colombia, Venezuela Summon Ambassadors

Yesterday afternoon, President Santos summoned the Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia, Ricardo Lozano, to a meeting over the border crisis. Santos also criticized the Venezuelan government for not allowing the Colombian People’s Defender to attend high-level talks with Venezuelan diplomats earlier that day:

It’s unacceptable behaviour. It’s undignified, and that’s what we’ve told the Venezuelan government (…) I can’t allow Venezuela to treat Colombians and our government like this.

At the same time, Santos said that he was calling for a meeting of UNASUR so that the organization might be made aware of the situation:

We want to tell the world – starting with UNASUR – and show them what is happening, because it’s totally unacceptable.

Last night, Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Angela Holguin said that Venezuela’s behaviour was “completely wrong”, and that Venezuelan People’s Defender Tareck William Saab and Tachira state governor Jose Vielma Mora have ignored calls from the Colombian government to discuss the situation.

Despite the increased tension, Holguin said earlier today that breaking diplomatic ties with Venezuela was “unthinkable and impossible”, and stressed the need for the two sides to talk – if need be – through a third party.

Maduro followed Santos’ lead by summoning the Colombian ambassador to Venezuela, Ivan Rincon, to discuss the situation. Through her Twitter account, Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez announced the move, saying:

We are going to conduct a deep review of our relations with Colombia as a result of the aggression our people suffers from paramilitarism and the economic war.

Border Closure Taking Toll on Local Economy

EFE reported yesterday that the closure of the border in Tachira state has had an almost immediate effect on the local economy. In San Antonio, Tachira, businesses have begun to close and basic necessities have become even more scarce. Prior to the closure, San Antonio and the surrounding areas benefited from the flow of contraband goods into Colombia.

One of the reasons businesses have closed, EFE claims, is that many of the store owners were Colombian, and were either deported or decided to flee the country on their own.

Nelson Benitez Garcia, a taxi driver who has lived in San Antonio for ten years, told EFE

I can’t find even a single grain of rice. I’ve had to eat out a lot because I don’t have any food at home. If I line up [to buy food at a supermarket], then I can’t go to work.

Local gas stations have also seen a decrease in business, since they were often frequented by Colombians who would cross the border to take advantage of the world’s cheapest gas prices.

Border Remains Porous

An article republished on El Nacional from RunRun.es points out that the border remains porous, and that people looking to cross into Colombia can get past Venezuelan border guards for as little as Bs. 700.

An unnamed man who acts as a guide for Colombians looking to escape Venezuela under the radar. The man explained that the trip into Colombia takes 20 minutes from start to finish, and that:

It’s Bs. 2,000 for the guide and the [Venezuelan] soldiers charge Bs. 700 per person who wants to cross.

The man also said that the trip’s primary danger came from Venezuelan authorities:

If the authorities from here [Venezuela] catch you, they’ll take you. On the other hand, the soldiers from the other side of the river will treat you very well. You have to be afraid of the ones here [Venezuela]. Over there, bribing a guard is really complicated. It’s not like it is here.

A Venezuelan man named Jason who works as a motorcycle taxi driver said that he personally saw a Colombian citizen off at the border after the closure. It was difficult for Jason to say goodbye to the man, 75, as he had spent 10 years working with his father:

I took him to a creek to help him cross. It was really sad. I teared up when I said goodbye.

Bank of America Warns of Hyperinflation

The Bank of America said that the worsening economic situation in Venezuela, fueled in part by the continued decline in oil prices, “could drive hyperinflation” in the country. The institution said that a prolonged period of sub-$40 per barrel oil would increase the chance that Venezuela would default on its financial obligations, and compared the situation to the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. However, the bank says that whereas there was a prospect for the recovery of oil prices during the financial crisis, that prospect is less likely today.

Elderly Woman Dies in Supermarket Line Stampede 

76 year-old Maria Aguirre died earlier this morning in a stampede outside a Mercal supermarket in the city of Sabaneta, Barinas state.

El Nacional reports that a crowd of thousands of people was waiting outside the Mercal this morning. As soon as the establishment opened, the crowd launched into a frenzy. Aguirre died in the ensuing commotion.

Below, a picture from the scene earlier today:

An image circulating on Twitter today shows an elderly woman alleged to be Aguirre lying dead on the ground while men in uniform – presumably National Guard soldiers – stand over her.

Raid in Caracas Leaves Two Dead, Seven Arrested

A raid on a building on the Avenida Urdaneta in Caracas yesterday afternoon left two people dead and seven arrested. The raid took place on a vacant building that had been invaded by a group of homeless people. The building was locally known as Los Sin Techo [For The Ones Without a Roof].

Authorities said that they recovered two handguns, a grenade and miscellaneous ammunition. The people arrested were allegedly members of a gang called Siete Codos [Seven Elbows].

Below, some pictures of the aftermath of the raid:

Questions/Comments? E-mail me: invenezuelablog@gmail.com

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