Colombia’s El Tiempo published an article today in which it documents the plight of the first Colombians to be deported from Venezuela’s interior since the recent flare-up in tensions between the two countries.
The article points out that the 33 deportees who arrived in the Arauca department on Wednesday were kicked out of Venezuela for either being in the country illegally or having a criminal record. Out of the 33 deportees, six were children, seven were women and twenty were men.
Upon arrival in Colombia, 14 of the deportees filed complaints with Colombian authorities over the treatment they received during the deportation process. The complainants said that they had been jailed, separated from their families, and that – as El Tiempo puts it – they “went hungry”.
Amit Majul worked as a cook in Caracas. When two National Guard soldiers stopped him and asked him for his papers, Majul admitted that he did not have Venezuelan I.D. He said that the soldiers arrested him and accused him of being a paramilitary.
Nestor Enrique Guerra told El Tiempo that he was arrested in Valencia. He was deported and forced to leave behind his five children – all of whom were born in Venezuela – along with his wife and his mother.
The People’s Defender in the Arauca department, Maria Esperanza Bermeo, warned that the department does not have any resources to deal with any influx of deportees. She said:
If the [central] government and the border municipalities of Aruca, Arauquita and Saravena do not establish a contingency plan right now, the situation for Colombians who choose to return through here will be very critical, since we have no means with which to look after them.
Minister of Defense’s Absence Raises Health Concerns
Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino Lopez’s absence from the public eye in recent weeks has been all the more noted since the border crisis began with Colombia three weeks ago. While there have been unsubstantiated rumours that Lopez was suffering from a serious conditions – perhaps cancer – Quinto Dia‘s J.A. Almenar claims to have inside information regarding Padrino’s location and health. Almenar wrote:
[Padrino Lopez] does not have cancer, and what I’ve been told is that he had to be operated outside Venezuela. He’s recovering and will return in the next few weeks (…) I can assure you that he’s not in the Military Hospital, but in Cuba.
Almenar claims to have spoken to “an army officer” over Padrino Lopez’s condition, and claims that his health complications stem from an earlier prostate operation. According to Almenar, Padrino Lopez “didn’t take care of himself”, which caused the need for this latest operation.
Colombia Refutes Maduro Claims on Cartagena Agreement
Yesterday, Maduro spoke from Beijing and said that Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez had signed important agreements in Cartagena with the Colombian government on the issue of the border crisis. Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Angela Holguin refuted the comments, saying:
Not a single document was signed in Cartagena with the Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister, Delcy Rodriguez.
Holguin said that the Venezuelan government has delayed meetings with the Colombian government on the matter 15 times. Holguin stressed the fact that the issue of smuggling affects both nations, and that it’s a difficult issue to control “without a joint effort”.
Rodriguez Responds to Holguin Comments on Colombian Migration
Holguin spoke before the Colombian Senate on Wednesday on the issue of Colombian migration into Venezuela. While the Venezuelan government continues to claim that there is a “massive exodus” of Colombians fleeing into Venezuela in search of a better life, Holguin gave her point of view on the situation of Colombians in the country:
Over the last ten years, they were promised an I.D. for voting, homes and subsidies; now, when they show their I.D.s, they’re destroyed.
Rodriguez called Holguin’s comments “unbelievable”, and said that Venezuela was the victim of “every type of aggression from Colombia”. Rodriguez also said that Colombia had “activated a media war apparatus against Venezuela”, and that Venezuela would go through international channels to seek compensation for Colombians living in Venezuela.
Venezuela Opens Humanitarian Corridor
In an apparent response to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ request, the Venezuelan government has opened a humanitarian corridor to allow children Colombian children living in Venezuela to return to their Colombian schools. The corridor marks the first time since August 19 that individuals have been legally allowed to cross the Venezuela-Colombia border in the vicinity of Cucuta, Colombia.
Cucuta mayor Donamaris Ramirez announced the move, saying:
A corridor for Colombian children living in Venezuela and study in Colombia has been opened. [They’ve] started to go back to school, some of them along with their families.
Maduro Shuffles Cabinet
Today, Maduro announced several changes to his cabinet as part of the lead-up to the December 6 parliamentary elections. He announced that several PSUV officials will leave their current posts so that they may officially begin their run for the National Assembly. The changes are:
- Clara Vidal replaces Aloha Nuñez as Minister for Indigenous Peoples.
- Brigadier General Jesus Salazar replaces Carmen Melendez as Minister for the Office of the President.
- Jose Luis Bernardo replaces Haiman El Troudi as Minister of Land Transport and Public Owrks.
- Admiral Jairo Avendaño replaces Gilberto Amilcar Pinto Blanco as Chief of the Miranda Territory.
- Isis Ochoa replaces Elias Jaua as Minister for Communes and Social Movements. Ochoa also assumes the role of head of the Vice-Presidency of Socialism.
Aside from the above changes, Maduro also named Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez “the new Vice-President of the Council of Ministers for Politics”, and named Gladys Requena Minister for Women and Equality.
Lopez Trial Reaches Conclusion
Leopoldo Lopez’s trial is expected to begin wrapping up y as the Voluntad Popular leader and his defense team are given the day to make their closing statements. Lopez – who is on trial alongside five students – will also be given the chance to speak, as will the students. Given the time restraints, it is unlikely that a sentence will be handed out today.
Lopez’s trial has been marked by irregularities. A star witness for the prosecution, a linguist named Rosa Amelia Asuaje, provided expert testimony that was not added to case until February 21, 2014, just over a year after the start of the trial. Also, the judge rejected every single piece of evidence for the defense of Lopez, which included 68 witnesses, 3 experts, 10 videos and dozens of pictures.
As of approximately 1:00 PM Caracas time, the hearing had not begun since one of the co-accused, Marco Aurelio Coello, was not in attendance. His mother and lawyers said at the time that they did not know where he was.
Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, remained optimistic today that her husband would be found innocent. At around 11:30 Caracas time, she tweeted:
Today, together with the love of my children, Leosan and Manuela, we wait to receive #FreeLeopoldo with open arms.
Supporters have been gathering outside the Palacio de Justicia all day in Caracas awaiting the verdict. Below, some shots from the scene:
Some of the Voluntad Popular leadership and supporters:
Lilian Tintori and supporters:
Security outside the Palacio de Justicia has been tight throughout the trial, and today has been no exception:
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