HAVANA TIMES — Venezuela closed its borders on Thursday with Colombia for 72 hours following an alleged attack by Colombian paramilitary groups that left three Venezuelan soldiers wounded, DPA reported.
President Nicolas Maduro condemned the attack and declared that the first step Venezuela would take as part of a global operation would be to track down and capture the “murderers” who ambushed the Venezuelan soldiers and then apply a special humanitarian plan to address the growing numbers of Colombians entering the country.
Following the decision, which affected the border between Venezuela’s state of Tachira and the Colombian department of Norte de Santander, Colombian Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo referred to the action as “inconvenient” and requested the prompt reopening of the border for the sake of inhabitants of the region.
The minister said that the area is regularly crossed by locals and that the 72-hour shutdown affects people on both side of the border.
“The decision does not help relations between the two nations. I hope border crossings can be resumed briefly. This is a very dynamic and active border point where people have established many cultural ties, so the decision is obviously not very good news,” Cristo pointed out.
Maduro asked the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez to arrange a meeting with her counterpart, Maria Angela Holguin, to arrive at an agreement regarding actions that will prevent new incidents of this nature.
“The first order of business is finding the murderers and the mob that surrounds them. We’re coordinating actions with Colombian authorities to find them beyond the (Venezuelan) border,” Maduro announced while addressing the country on radio and television.
He added that Venezuela was the victim of the “paramilitary plague that has been brought over from Colombia,” a situation that is now coupled with gasoline and food smuggling at the border.
He explained that two lieutenants and a private were wounded during an ambush that took place on Wednesday in the locality of San Antonio, an action he attributed to paramilitary groups and smugglers.
He pointed out that lieutenant Alexis Rodriguez was wounded in the head and back and that lieutenant Alejandro Veloz was wounded in the right lung, while soldier Miguel Nuñez’s left arm and leg were struck by three bullets.
Maduro declared that, owing to the ambush, the border points at San Antonio de Tachira and Ureña, in the State of Tachira, crossed daily by roughly 40,000 automobiles and thousands of people from Colombia, had been closed.
He added that the area is used by smugglers who take subsidized fuel and food products to Colombia, where they are sold at a higher price.
“A military force is going to be deployed in the area. We’ll get to the bottom of this, we mustn’t leave these border areas without nipping these criminal organizations at the bud and pushing them out with the support of the people. What’s happening at the border is very serious and we want to have the best of relations with Colombia, relations of love and solidarity,” he stated.
Maduro said there are 5.6 million Colombians in Venezuela and that, last year, 142,000 entered the country, fleeing violence, war and poverty, a situation comparable only to the exodus of Africans towards Europe.
“It’s the largest migratory exodus in the world right now. Why are they coming to Venezuela? Thousands and thousands of families come to the country with their needs. We have to develop special plans for the Colombian exodus. I ask for international support in this,” he declared.
Prior to Maduro’s statements, the government had issued a declaration demanding that the Colombian government guarantee the detention of the perpetrators of the attack on Venezuela’s military and that it effectively combat “trans-border crime.”
The president said the ambush was carried out while the military officers “were conducting activities to control transnational crime and extraction contraband, and, most importantly, defending Venezuelans’ right to peace.”
The communiqué pointed out that Maduro agreed to close down the border with Colombia for 72 hours and urged the Colombian government to redouble cooperation mechanisms to “guarantee the capture of these paramilitary groups and effectively combat trans-border crime.”
Maduro also announced that an additional military force will be deployed at border areas to set in motion the Operativo de Liberacion del Pueblo (“People’s Liberation Operation”, or OPL), to combine military, police and elite forces to confront crime.
Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said that her country’s authorities are willing to cooperate with the investigation.
“This is a sovereign decision to block the routes and try to have Venezuelan and Colombian authorities prevent crossings into Colombian territory by criminals,” Holguin said.
“This is a joint effort that could yield positive results, like the ones we’ve been seeing in the struggle against smuggling,” she added.
Holguin announced she would soon meet with her Venezuelan counterpart, Delcy Rodriguez, to address “sensitive issues” of both countries.
“We’ve set a tentative date for the meeting, possibly the 14th of September, to address many of these sensitive border issues, and we reiterate that we are going to work with the Venezuelan government on this,” the Colombian Foreign Minister announced.