Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro has temporarily closed the Colombian border in an attempt to “destroy the mafia,” whom he claims are taking advantage of Venezuela’s faltering economy.
Maduro, who is overseeing an unprecedented economic crisis in Venezuela due to years of socialist dictatorship and mismanagement, said that the “measure was inevitable [but] necessary” due to allegedly increasing rates of smuggling valuable Bolívars into the country at enormous profits.
Resources subsidized by the Venezuelan government, such as petrol and diesel fuels as a result of the country’s extensive oil reserves, are also smuggled over the border and also sold at considerable profits.
“We’re intercepting 64 million bolivars (about $95,000) that was crossing by shortcuts and roads, so I decided to close the frontier with Colombia for 72 hours, starting now,” Maduro said on his radio channel.
“There are entire warehouses full of 100-bolivar notes in the [Colombian cities of] Cucuta, Cartagena, Maicao and Bucaramanga. I have given the orders to close all land, maritime and air possibilities so those bills taken out can’t be returned and they’re stuck with their fraud abroad,” he continued.
It is not the first time the border has been closed by the Venezuelan government, with a previous closure in September 2015 causing considerable anger amongst Colombian officials.
Problems surrounding the Venezuelan/Colombian border have been widespread over recent years, with over 90,000 Venezuelans attempting to cross over into Colombia in search of basic necessities such as food and medicine over the course of one weekend this year. While involving tens of thousands of people, these crossings were peaceful, consisting mostly of women looking to buy food and other necessary goods for their families from the well-stocked Colombian markets across the border.
The United Nations also revealed last year that government-controlled Venezuelan paramilitaries have forced over 20,000 Colombian’s to leave their homes in Venezuela, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos describing the process as similar to that of a “Nazi ghetto.” The Venezuelan government confiscated those properties belonging to deported Colombians.
The latest measure follows Maduro’s decision to recall the more than six billion 100 Bolivar notes in circulation — each one equivalent to roughly $0.02 — and replace them with higher denominations due to the currency’s unprecedented rate of inflation.
Venezuelan’s have been told they have 10 days to exchange their 100 Bolivar notes and exchange them for higher denominations of currency.