Early indications suggest that Colombians living on the Colombia-Venezuela border will be the most affected by Venezuela’s decision to sever all ties with its neighboring nation.
Venezuela’s borders are reportedly now on “maximum alert” after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expressed fear that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s “hatred of Venezuela” would drive him to take military action.
Along the 3,500 kilometers of the Colombia-Venezuela border, Venezuela has stationed more than 20,000 troops. According to Prensa Latina, the Venezuelan Defense Minister Carlos Mata Figueroa said the troops currently deployed in the area are on alert for any escalation of aggression coming from the Colombian government.
On the other side Colombia ruled out on Thursday that troops would be mobilized in border areas. The Colombian presidential press secretary Cesar Mauricio Velasquez said “on Colombia’s part there will never, never be the movement of troops” and insisted that there would not be any meetings between military and political leaders.
Velasquez added that all communications were currently being passed through Luis Alfonso Hoyos the Colombian ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), and Carolina Barco, the Colombian ambassador to the U.S. capital.
Minor repercussions have already been felt in the transport of freight over the border, with El Tiempo reporting restrictions late on Thursday on goods passing into Colombia’s Norte de Santander department from the Venezuelan border town San Antonio del Tachira. Motor traffic and pedestrian crossings allegedly remained unaffected.
William Villamizar, governor of Norte de Santander, said “We are making a call to the border community to maintain an atmosphere of calm and not to let situations occur that leave or generate an effect on public order.”
Meanwhile the governor of the Colombian border department Arauca asked Colombians to refrain from travelling to Venezuela because of extra pressure and searches imposed by Venezuelan authorities.
“I’ve heard of people who have head their identity cards broken by the Venezuelan guards, who have been physically and verbally abused in this border area, so please refrain from crossing the border until they solve this problem,” the governor said.
Government officials, businessmen and political experts have said that they do not expect a major change in the trade relations between Colombia and Venezuela.
Former Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Emma Mejia said that relations with Venezuela were already strained, “although a break hadn’t been officially declared we were on the verge of a break. This formalizes a situation that was [already] difficult to sustain.”
The minister’s view was echoed by the international relations expert Maria Pilar Marulanda “we already had very little [relationship with Venezuela], so the decision [to break ties] does not generate any major traumas.”
Luis Carlos Villegas, the president of the National Association of Industrialists, also said the attitude of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was nothing new.
Colombia’s exports to Venezuela were worth $652 million between January and May of 2010, 71.4% lower than the same period in 2009. According to El Tiempo experts estimate that the crisis has caused Colombians around half a million jobs over the past year.
The drop in exports is the result of trade restrictions imposed on Colombia by its neighbor.
Chavez broke all relations with Colombia Thursday, following Colombia’s presentation to the OAS of evidence of the presence of 87 guerrilla camps in Venezuelan territory.
Chavez closed the Colombian embassy in Caracas and gave diplomatic staff 72 hours to leave the country.
The Venezuelan government has always vehemently denied allegations that rebels are hiding in its territory and has denounced Colombia’s decision to publicly present the evidence as “a pathetic media show.”
Venezuela first froze diplomatic relations in 2009, after Colombia signed an agreement granting the U.S. military access to seven Colombian army bases. Chavez has consistently expressed his belief that the pact is an attempt to undermine regional sovereignty.