CARACAS, Venezuela, Tuesday July 12, 2016 – Thousands of Venezuelans have crossed into Colombia on after Venezuela opened their common border to allow its people to buy food, medicine, and other essential supplies.
The border was closed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro last August because, he said, the area had been infiltrated by Colombian paramilitaries and gangs.
The border closure was also designed to prevent subsidised goods from being smuggled from Venezuela and sold for a huge profit in Colombia.
On Sunday, however, some 35,000 people, many of whom had queued since the early hours of the morning, crossed the border between San Antonio del Tachira in Venezuela and Cucuta in Colombia, a Colombian official said.
Supermarkets were inundated with Venezuelans buying basic supplies such as rice, cooking oil, flour and sugar, as well as medicine and essentials like toilet paper, all of which are either unavailable or expensive in their country because of shortages.
The Colombia-Venezuela Border: Open to Smugglers, Closed To The Desperate https://t.co/iUaxQYmNqn
— Parallels (@nprparallels) July 12, 2016
Venezuela is mired in a deep economic crisis and many say they struggle to feed their families. Last week, several hundred desperate Venezuelan women broke through the border controls with Colombia in search of food.
In response, the Venezuelan government ordered the border to be opened for 12 hours on Sunday, allowing Venezuelans to cross into Colombia to purchase the items that are hard to find back home.
President Maduro “ordered that he didn’t want anyone hurt, anyone killed … and if these women decided to go again on Sunday, they meet, go to Colombia, buy there, and return,” Tachira state Governor Jose Vielma Mora told the press.
With the global oil-price slump, which has made less money available for imports, shortages have become rampant in Venezuela. Falling production and imports have spurred on inflation, which reached 180 percent in May, moreover.
Overpriced black-market and informal-market alternatives exist for Venezuelans looking for food, but the vast majority struggle to find things to eat, and they get by on unhealthy or extremely limited diets.
“There simply are not enough goods to go around,” Tulane professor David Smilde, who lives in Caracas, wrote on July 5.
“There is not starvation in Venezuela right now,” Smilde wrote. “But there is significant hunger and malnourishment that could turn into starvation this year if something does not change.”
Business Insider reports that food riots have occurred across the country, including in the streets around the presidential palace in Caracas.
In June, three people were killed at food-related demonstrations, and 70 people have been killed in vigilante-related lynchings in the first four months of this year.
While Maduro and his political allies blame “economic warfare” by the US and its allies in Venezuela, the middle and poor classes — those who have traditionally supported Maduro, his predecessor Hugo Chavez, and their socialist party — have borne the brunt of the crisis.
Their anger with this hardship likely contributed to the socialist party’s resounding defeat in parliamentary elections in December.
This month, a poll found that Maduro’s support had fallen to 23 percent, while 80 percent of the country wants him out of power this year.
An effort to launch a recall referendum against the president has stalled, as the government contests many of the signatures gathered in support of the recall.
Meanwhile, the people spending hours in the streets, waiting to buy scarce goods at high prices, grow increasingly disenchanted.
“I really believed in the whole revolution and what Chavez did,” one woman told NPR. “And now I would never vote for these guys again.”