Santa Elena, Venezuela (VA)– On Wednesday, following an attack on Venezuelan troops leaving two soldiers in critical condition, president Nicolas Maduro closed a major border crossing to Colombia for “at least 72 hours” and launched a search for the assailants.
Yesterday Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin told reporters her government respected Venezuela’s “sovereign decision” to close its border, and indicated that Colombia increased security in tandem, to prevent the criminals from crossing over.
Although details of the incident have not been publicized, president Maduro has indicated the attack came from Colombian paramilitaries, who have reportedly intensified hostile activity on the border in recent years.
Venezuela’s Northwestern state of Tachira, where the incident took place, is a hotbed for food and gasoline smuggling as well as black market exchange; activities which have paved the way for authoritative mafias on both sides of the border.
The wounded soldiers were part of an offensive to prevent goods from leaving Venezuela. Last year, official data showed that over 40 percent of food items subsidized through government services were caught in the bootlegging cycle, though the number decreased slightly as border security was expanded.
Holguin attributed the assault to “smuggling mafias,” without making mention of paramilitaries, although the two terms have been known to coincide in the region.
Isolated protests have followed the closure in Villa del Rosario, the corresponding border town in Colombia, appearing to demonstrate the region’s dependence on contraband as its central economic enterprise.
On Wednesday evening, Maduro asked Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez to arrange an urgent meeting with her Colombian counterpart to discuss paramilitary activity as well as drug trafficking in the region.
Holguin has since responded by proposing September 14th as a possible date.
This report was prepared by Z.C. DUTKA for Venezuelanalysis.
For more information about paramilitaries in the region, click here.