Criminal gangs are charging desperate Venezuelans fees to enter Colombia as growing numbers of people flee the deepening humanitarian crisis in their homeland, according to a report from NTN24 on Tuesday.
The report detailed how Venezuelans entering Colombia through trails near the Simon Bolivar International Bridge are being charged between 5,000 and 10,000 Colombian pesos to enter the neighboring country. The charges also apply to Venezuelans crossing the border to get access to basic supplies that are unavailable in their country.
Those responsible for the charges are Venezuelan gangs known as colectivos (collectives), who share their profits with the Venezuelan National Guard and other security personnel. Despite complaints from the population, there have so far been no arrests related to the illegal charges.
Colectivos have long formed a key tactic in the socialist regime’s strategy to control the country’s population, often using violence and intimidation to control the population. Gang members can be found attacking opposition lawmakers, storming Church services, harassing the media, and demanding total loyalty from impoverished communities in return for food rations and other essentials.
Thousands of Venezuelans travel to Colombia every day in a bid to escape the crisis they are experiencing in their homeland, some with no immediate plans to return. Many arrive in need of humanitarian assistance, mainly due to their inability to afford living necessities such as food, medicine, and hygiene products.
According to a study by the Brookings Institute last December, an estimated 8.2 million Venezuelans are projected to leave the country within the next four years, with a majority of them expected to go to Colombia. At least two million people have already left since 2015, equivalent to five percent of the country’s population.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Colombian border town of Cucutá this weekend in his final stop of a four-nation tour of South America aimed at supporting efforts to remove socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro from office. During a short address, he called on the regime to allow the passage of U.S. aid to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe currently taking place.
“Mr. Maduro, open these bridges, open these borders. You can end this today,” he said. “I hope you will care now when you see the horror, when you see the tragedy, to change your ways and to leave your country.”