Venezuela-Colombia dispute grows as ambassadors recalled, more borders closed

Colombian right-wing paramilitaries.

Venezuela and Colombia recalled their ambassadors for consultations on August 26. The move came after a meeting between the two nations’ foreign ministers failed to calm diplomatic tensions over Venezuelan border closures and Colombian smuggling activities.

The recall was followed the next day by further border closures announced by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

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

After Colombia's announcement, Venezuelan foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez recalled Venezuela’s ambassador in Bogota. Rodriguez declared her government would review bilateral relations in light of “the aggressions our people suffer due to the paramilitarism [from Colombia] and the economic war” that includes systematic smuggling of products across the border into Colombia.

Tensions flared up in the week leading up to the recall of ambassadors. Tensions rose after Maduro announced a 60-day “state of exception” that closed the border between Venezuela's western Tachira state and the Colombian department of Santander.

The move was in response to an attack on Venezuelan soldiers by alleged Colombian paramilitaries on August 19.

The move was coupled with the controversial deportation of 1100 undocumented Colombians from the western Venezuelan border state of Tachira, which Santos decried as “unacceptable”.

Maduro defended his government’s actions as part of a broader campaign against alleged Colombian paramilitarism and border smuggling. He identified this as a key front in the “economic war” being waged against Venezuela's socialist government, which involves the smuggling of subsidised Venezuelan goods, including petrol, into Colombia to sell at a higher profit.

Venezuelan authorities say 70 tons of contraband food items destined for Colombia have been confiscated so far in operations on the border.

Santos has also instructed Colombian foreign minister Maria Angela Holguin to issue a call for a special meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to “tell the world what is happening”.

On August 28, thousands of Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Colombians marched through the streets of Caracas to reject the presence of paramilitaries in Venezuela and show 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 more municipalities in Tachira state.

“In order to clean out the paramilitarism, crime, bachaquerismo [petty contraband of subsidised, 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 said he had ordered the deployment of 3000 extra soldiers to the Colombian border to aid in the hunt for paramilitaries.

Maduro also sought to dispel rumours of violence by the Venezuelan armed forces in the border zone. Rumours were sparked by the release of a video depicting people in military uniforms savagely beating a pair of youths.

The video was released by the Panamanian television channel Tvn Panama on August 25. The channel attributed the violent incident to Venezuelan soldiers, but the video was actually recorded in Guatemala City by Hispan TV.

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

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.

[Reprinted from]

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