Maduro Announces Further Border Closures After Colombia and Venezuela Recall Ambassadors

Caracas, Venezuela (VA) – Venezuela and Colombia recalled their ambassadors for consultations on Thursday after a meeting between the two nations’ foreign ministers on Wednesday failed to calm diplomatic tensions over Venezuelan border closures and Colombian smuggling activities. The move was followed by further border closures announced by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Friday.

On Thursday, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos recalled his country’s diplomatic envoy to Venezuela, Ricardo Lozano, citing an alleged refusal by Venezuelan authorities to allow a visit by Colombia’s ombudsman to the border city of San Antonio de Tachira.

Following the announcement, Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez recalled Venezuela’s ambassador in Bogota, declaring that her government would review bilateral relations in light of “the aggressions our people suffer due to the paramilitarism and the economic war”.

Tensions between the two neighbors flared up last week following a 60-day state of exception closing the border between western Tachira state and Santander announced by  Maduro in response to an attack on Venezuelan soldiers by alleged paramilitaries on August 19.

The move was coupled with the controversial deportation of 1,100 undocumented Colombians from the western Venezuelan border state of Tachira, which Santos decried as “unacceptable”.

President Maduro has nonetheless defended his government’s actions as part of a broader campaign against alleged Colombian paramilitarism and border smuggling, which he identifies as a key front in the “economic war” against the Bolivarian nation, involving contraband of subsidized Venezuelan goods and gasoline. According to Venezuelan authorities, 70 tons of contraband food items destined for Colombia have been confiscated thus far in operations on the border.

In addition to recalling his country’s ambassador, Santos also instructed Colombian foreign minister Maria Angela Holguin to issue a call for a special meeting of UNASUR in order to “tell the world what is happening”.

Border Closure Extended to Four More Municipalities in Tachira State

On Friday, thousands of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Colombians marched through the streets of Caracas expressing their rejection of paramilitarism and support for peace.

Speaking at the rally, Maduro announced that his government’s closure of areas of the Colombian-Venezuelan border would be extended to four additional municipalities in Tachira state.

“In order to clean out the paramilitarism, crime, bachaquerismo [petty contraband of subsidized, regulated, or other goods], kidnapping, and drug trafficking, I have decided to close the border in zone 2 of Tachira state, in the municipalities of Lobatera, Ayacucho, Garcia de Hevia, and Panamericano,” he said.

The Venezuelan head of state also indicated that he had ordered the deployment of 3,000 additional troops to the Colombian border to aid in the hunt for paramilitaries.

Video Depicting Venezuelan Military Violence Exposed as False

Maduro also took the opportunity on Friday to dispel rumors of violence  by the Venezuelan armed forces in the border zone sparked by the release of a video depicting people in military uniforms savagely beating a pair of youths.

Released by the Panamanian television channel Tvn Panama on Tuesday, which attributed the violent incident to Venezuelan soldiers, the video was in fact recorded in Guatemala City by Hispan TV.

President Maduro accused ultra right Colombian ex-president Alvaro Uribe of having a hand in the dissemination of the falsified video, which he linked to a broader media war aimed at discrediting his government that he says is being waged from “Madrid, Bogota, and Miami”.

Image Source: Carlos Felipe Pardo, Flickr, Creative Commons Cucuta - pinpineros Fuel smuggling in Cucuta, Colombia (border with Venezuela)

Image Source: Carlos Felipe Pardo, Flickr, Creative Commons
Cucuta – pinpineros
Fuel smuggling in Cucuta, Colombia (border with Venezuela)

The incident is not the first time that images of state repression in other countries have been falsely attributed to Venezuela. During last year’s violent opposition barricades, social media erupted with images of alleged police repression in Venezuela taken from diverse countries, including Bulgaria, Greece, Singapore, Chile, Egypt, and others.

This report was prepared By LUCAS KOERNER for