Following a daring protest last week that saw a group of 500 women from Ureña, Tachira, defy a government closure of the border with Colombia in search of food, the Venezuelan government agreed to re-open the border today for 12 hours. Hundreds of Tachira residents began lining up starting in the early morning hours hoping to get the chance to cross into Colombia to buy food and other basic necessities.
Tachira state governor Jose Vielma Mora ordered the border open from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, but National Guard soldiers at the Simon Bolivar International Bridge told people going into Colombia that they needed to be back in Venezuela at 2:00 PM. The announcement by the soldiers caused a great deal of confusion.
By the end of the day, over 35,000 Venezuelans had crossed into Colombia looking for stocked supermarkets, according to the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The massive turnout forced Colombian authorities to announce an extension of their border services agency working hours until 8:00 PM today, with the possibility of extending until midnight.
Below, video showing Venezuelans streaming into Colombia earlier today:
Below, a video showing the line into Colombia at 7:40 AM. This footage was probably taken at the Simon Bolivar International Bridge. The bridge is the biggest connection Venezuela and Colombia, linking the Colombian city of Cucuta with the Venezuelan cities of San Cristobal and San Antonio:
Early in the morning, the crowd grew desperate at the slow pace with which the crossing proceeded. In the video below, the crowd chants “Tenemos hambre! Tenemos hambre!” [“We are hungry! We are hungry!”]
BBC correspondent Natalio Cosoy cited official government sources as saying that by 9:00 AM, approximately 6,000-7,000 Venezuelans had crossed into Colombia.
More images from today’s events in the Tachira-Colombia border.
The signs below read “Venezuela promotes peace:”
The line in the early morning hours in San Cristobal:
And later in the day:
Venezuelans Thankful for Colombian Understanding
Throughout the day, Venezuelans took to social media today to thank their Colombian neighbours for welcoming them today, primarily into the city of Cucuta. The messages of gratitude also came from those who went into Colombia today.
The image below made rounds through Twitter today. It shows a man – likely on his way into Colombia – with a sign that says “Colombia, Thank you for your solidarity with Venezuela”:
Note that the people behind the man are carrying luggage. Many of the people who made the trip into Colombia today brought the biggest bags they could carry with the hopes of being able to fill them with food and other necessities that are nearly impossible to find in Venezuela.
In the imagine below, a group of shoppers pose proudly with the products they were able to buy in Cucuta:
Aside from welcoming shoppers into the country, the Colombian government also deployed a mobile hospital unit onto the Simon Bolivar International Bridge. The truck is there to sell medicine to the Venezuelans crossing over the border.
NA: Gov’t Overpaid Cuba For Electrical Plants
On Friday, the National Assembly’s Special Commission released part of its findings of a study into the country’s electrical crisis. Part of the commission’s findings were that in a 2000 deal, Venezuela paid Cuba 4.3 over the price for electrical power plants.
Jose Millan, the head of the commission, explained:
This was a harmful agreement, because between 2006 and 2015, $6.3 billion were invested [by the gov’t into the electrical system] without any improvement to the electricity generation capacity. On the contrary, we lost some, and today we don’t know that state of the plants that the Cubans brought over. The overcharge was $4.31 billion, if we calculate the figure with the value of the equipment and of the generation of electricity at the international level.
The same report also found a number of other irregularities involving Cuba. They include:
- The Venezuelan government bought electrical equipment using an intermediary: Union Electrica de Cuba. The report questions why the government didn’t use its own energy company, PDVSA.
- On paper, the Cuban plants could produce 1,300 MW; however, they only produce 300 MW.
- While 74% of the Cuban plants and other Cuban electrical equipment were functioning in 2010, only 23% were operational in 2015.
The National Assembly is expected to release the full report next week.
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