Thousands of Venezuelans cram border with Colombia

President Nicolas Maduro ordered the reopening of the border in the western state of Tachira

Venezuelans walk crossing the border from Venezuela to Colombia on June 8, 2019 in Paraguachon, Colombia. Getty Images
Venezuelans walk crossing the border from Venezuela to Colombia on June 8, 2019 in Paraguachon, Colombia. Getty Images

Several thousand Venezuelans, desperate for food and medicine, packed a border crossing to Colombia on Saturday, hours after President Nicolas Maduro partially reopened it.

Mr Maduro on Friday ordered the reopening of the Venezuelan border in the western state of Tachira, near the place in Colombia where the international community had massed humanitarian aid that Mr Maduro's government refused to take.

Early on Saturday, thousands of people rushed to the border bridges between the two countries and long queues stretched throughout the day.

"My two daughters have dengue. They have a fever and I had to come get care in Colombia," said Belky Rangel, 34, who was about to burst into tears after waiting three hours with her two daughters, 5 and 8, to cross to Cucuta.

At midday, 18,000 people had crossed the border from Venezuela and 8,000 from Colombia, said Christian Krueger, head of the Migration Service in Colombia.

Before the border closed in February, about 30,000 people crossed the Simon Bolivar International Bridge every day, from San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, to Cucuta, official figures show.

But containers deposited on the Venezuelan side to prevent any entry of humanitarian aid, considered by the government a pretext for foreign military intervention, were still in place.

"They have not moved the containers at all. It is so hard getting across. There are so many people" on the Venezuelan side, says Carlos Julio Perez, 55. He waited hours to go to a medical appointment on the Colombian side.

When the border was closed, many Venezuelans crossed on hidden trails linking the two countries, putting themselves at the mercy of smugglers and armed groups.

The economically devastated South American nation is suffering from shortages of food, medicine and other essentials amid a power struggle between socialist Mr Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognised as interim president by more than 50 countries including the US.

Announcing the reopening of the frontier on Twitter, Mr Maduro said: "We are a people of peace that strongly defends our independence and self-determination."

But he did not say if other key border bridges, closed since August 2015 after two Venezuelan soldiers were wounded by smugglers, would be unblocked.

More than three million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015 to flee the worst economic crisis in its recent history.

Updated: June 10, 2019 03:50 AM


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