Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday ordered a closure of the main border crossing with Colombia after three soldiers were attacked.
Maduro said on national television that the border connecting the Colombian city of Cucuta with Venezuela’s San Cristobal would remain closed for 72 hours.
Meanwhile, authorities will begin investigating the shooting of two lieutenants and a captain, who according to Venezuela’s head of state were attacked while carrying out anti-smuggling operations.
“They were ambushed by two motorcyclists that we’re now looking for, even underneath the rocks,” said Maduro.
Maduro regularly has blamed smugglers and paramilitaries allegedly linked to former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for violence that has spilled over the border in recent years.
As part of Venezuela’s crackdown against the flow of contraband, the government this year has closed the border in Tachira at night, deployed more troops and toughened jail sentences for anyone caught smuggling. It also has rolled a fingerprint-scanning system to restrict the amount of any single product shoppers can buy.
In total, the government says more than 6,000 people have been arrested for smuggling in the past year and more than 28,000 tons of food seized last year in anti-smuggling operations.
Opponents say the restrictions are futile and blame price and currency controls for much of the criminality as goods purchased at ultra-low prices in Venezuela are resold for huge profits across the border.
Colombia’s Congress earlier this year approved anti-contraband legislation, which led to massive protests across the country.
Shopkeepers claimed that the efforts of the administration of Juan Manuel Santos to curb contraband favored only a few multinational trading companies, leaving smaller businesses without a license to import goods.