Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 17th 2015 Contents BG20 REGIONAL
BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt SEPTEMBER 17 • 2015
Venezuela, in radical social-
ist hands since the turn of
the century, and its broadly
Colombia, have often been
erratic and, at times, literally explosive. In
2007, the first stretch of a gas pipeline linking
the two countries was inaugurated, amid
warm rhetoric about renewed amity. But in
July, it blew up, apparently because of lack
of maintenance, and bilateral tensions of
another kind soon flared.
Previous crises have involved the dispatch
of Venezuelan tanks to the border, and com-
plaints from the Colombian government
that leftist rebel fighters were being harbored
in the neighboring country. But the current
quarrel is having a particularly dire effect
on ordinary people, and it makes a mockery
of the efforts of Juan Manuel Santos, Colom-
bia s president, to mend fences with his
Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro.
On August 19, Maduro closed the border
crossings connecting Venezuela s Táchira
state with an adjoining area of Colombia,
Norte de Santander. Maduro said the aim
was to stop the Colombian smugglers whom
he blames for food shortages in his country.
(It would be nearer the truth to say those
smugglers thrive in cahoots with Venezuela s
Beset by economic woes, including a
plunge in oil revenues, and apparently in search of
handy scapegoats, the Venezuelan leader declared a
state of emergency in five municipalities that abut
Colombia. (Another eight were then added.) He also
told his police and National Guard to begin deporting
Colombians living "illegally" in Venezuela.
The mood darkened this week when Venezuela
closed yet another border post, this one between
Zulia state and Colombia s La Guajira.
According to the United Nations, nearly 1,500
Colombians were deported in the space of two weeks
and more than 18,600 others have fled back to their
homeland on their own. Even when the official depor-
tations died down, the panic among Colombians
living on the Venezuelan side of the border remained.
Many waded through the Táchira river with belongings
strapped to their backs. More than 3,400 people are
crowded into 21 shelters in the Colombian city of
Colombia is enraged, saying Venezuela has created
a humanitarian crisis. At the United Nations and the
Organisation of American States, the country has
denounced its neighbor for persecuting its nationals
and trying to blame its economic incompetence on
others. That last allegation may be well-founded:
Maduro has every reason to distract opinion ahead
of elections in December that his party may lose.
But picking a fight with Colombia may backfire
on Maduro, according to Maria Teresa Belandria, a
professor of international law at the Central University
of Venezuela. Some 5 million of Venezuela s 30 million
people are of Colombian descent, and many are reg-
istered to vote. That is partly thanks to a political
stunt by Maduro s fiery predecessor, Hugo Chávez,
called "Mission Identity" in 2003; it involved giving
thousands of temporary Venezuelan identity papers
to immigrants in the hope of creating a grateful new
Even before Maduro turned his ire on them, many
Colombians in Venezuela were feeling disillusioned
by their host country s travails and keen to head
home. At the Colombian consulate in Caracas, there
has been a long line of Colombians getting the papers
they need to go back. They are not immediately
affected by expulsions in the border area, but preparing
to go home looks prudent.
Some have spent most of their lives in Venezuela,
which attracted migrants when its economy was
healthy. Omaira, a 67-year-old domestic worker in
Caracas, said she moved to Venezuela more than 50
years ago in order to earn wages in a strong curren-
cy.The present crisis has put an end to that benefit.
Over the last 12 months, the Venezuelan bolívar s
value has plummeted more than 90 per cent against
the Colombian peso on the black market.
Colombia knows Omaira is not alone in her home-
sickness. Santos government estimates that if, as
expected, the current showdown continues to the
end of the year, as many as 500,000 Colombians
could return from Venezuela.
Santos and Maduro initially said they were ready
to discuss ways of easing tension, but that was before
the fresh border closure September 7.
"When we open the door to dialogue, Venezuela
responds by closing the border even more," said the
@2015 The Economist Newspaper Ltd. Distrib-
uted by the New York Times Syndicate
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