The Venezuelan army’s arrest Wednesday of several small-time Colombian smugglers at a border crossing close to the east Colombian city of Cucuta sparked a protest.
Protestors, who wished to remain anonynous, said Venezuelan officials arrested seven Colombians, who were transporting goods from Venezuela to Colombia.
Some 40 small-time smugglers took part in the protest, demanding that their associates be released. They constructed a blockade on the Venezuelan side of the border and tyres were doused with gasoline and set alight.
Venezuelan authorities responded by firing tear gas into the crowd, which caused the protesters to momentarily disperse.
The Francisco de Paula Santander bridge connecting Cucuta and the Venezuelan border town of Ureña is closed and only pedestrians are permitted to cross.
Colonel Raul Riaño from the Cucuta Metropolitan Police said Colombians authorities are powerless to intervene in the clash, because to do so would be to violate Venezuelan sovereignty.
Buying goods in Venezuela and smuggling them into Colombia to sell at a profit is a common practice along the Colombia-Venezuela border. Authorities generally turn a blind eye to the practice.
Tension between Colombia and Venezuela are running high, due to a diplomatic dispute over the socialist nation’s detention of eight Colombians, who are accused of espionage.
Colombia has appealed to the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) for help, due to concerns that Venezuela is violatig the human rights of the detainees.
Relations between the neighboring nations have been terse for some time. Venezuela is critical of the impact of Colombia’s internal conflict within its own borders. Colombia accuses Venezuela of providing FARC guerrillas with a safe haven.