In spite of major criticism from human rights organizations and damaged diplomatic relations with Colombia, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said Monday he will keep the countries’ border closed indefinitely, claiming that “terrorism” has diminished significantly.
“I’ve been carefully evaluating a set of new measures to reinforce everything in the eight areas where the border is closed and like that it will stay until we can build a peaceful border with the Government of Colombia as we are trying to do,” Maduro said.
The leftist Venezuelan president began closing border crossings in mid August following an alleged attack on Venezuelan soldiers by unknown perpetrators.
Maduro reported in September that the border could remain closed for another six months, but flip-flopped while bilateral commissions seek to attend the situation in the border region.
In some areas, Maduro claimed a 96% reduction in “terrorism, kidnapping, dismemberment and murder” following the border closures.
In the border state of Tachira alone, Venezuelan officials reported that they have arrested 250 people, 66 soldiers, 28 policemen and 34 alleged Colombian paramilitaries.
Maduro has cultivated fears of Colombian paramilitary forces and drug trafficking for years. These fears came to a culmination on August 19 when the president closed the Colombian border near the city of Cucuta.
He thereafter evicted 1,500 Colombian nationals, with a further 20,000 fleeing the country fearing reprisal.
In the following two months a humanitarian crisis has emerged in refugee camps around the border, after families were torn apart and homes demolished, the newly vulnerable do not have access to sufficient food and health services, “as well as being subjected to discrimination and persecution” reported the IACHR.
Last week, HRW director for the Americas Jose Miguel Vivanco reported that the border dispute is “a conflict manufactured in Caracas.”
Critics have additionally claimed that the ongoing issues with Colombia are a smokescreen designed to distract from an increasingly severe economic crisis amid dropping oil prices in Venezuela, ahead of the December 4 national assembly elections.