Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela 'anti-smuggling' troops deployed near Colombia

Commander in chief of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces of Venezuela, Vladimir Padrino (R), and general director of Colombian Fiscal and Customs Police, Brigadier-General Gustavo Moreno Maldonado Image copyright EPA
Image caption Colombian Brigadier-General Gustavo Moreno (left) and Venezuela's military's strategic command chief Vladimir Padrino Lopez (right) gave a joint press conference near the border

Venezuela says it has deployed 17,000 troops along its border with Colombia, which was closed on Monday for the first time as part of an anti-smuggling operation.

Up to 40% of goods Venezuela subsidises for its domestic market are smuggled to Colombia, where they are sold at much higher prices, the authorities say.

The border was closed on Monday night, and will be each night for a month.

The move has been agreed with the Colombian government.

The Venezuelan government initially announced that it planned to close the 2,200km-long (1,360-mile) border every night for an indefinite period.

But later the general in charge of the operation, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, clarified that the ban will be lifted after a month.

The border is being closed between 22:00 local time (02:30 GMT) and 05:00 (09:30 GMT).

Cargo vehicles, including vans and lorries, will be banned from crossing from Venezuela to Colombia between 18:00 (22:30 GMT) and 05:00 (09:30 GMT).

'Drug gangs'

Venezuela, which has the world's cheapest petrol prices, estimates 100,000 barrels of petrol are smuggled through its western border every day and sold illegally in Colombia.

The 17,000-strong contingent "will be enough to guarantee security" along the border, said Gen Padrino Lopez.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption In Venezuela you can fill your car's tank for less than $1 (£0.60)
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Shortages of basic staples such as bread have angered shoppers across Venezuela
Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Maduro (left) and Mr Santos (right) agreed on the measures at a summit in Colombia

The governor of Venezuela's western state of Tachira, Jose Vielma Mora, said that regional leaders support means the measure will be effective.

"There is plenty of evidence to show that most of the smuggling is done overnight," he told El Universal.

Dissatisfaction with the shortage of many staples, as well as rampant crime and high inflation, led thousands of people in the western Venezuelan states of Tachira and Merida to take to the streets in January.

The protests quickly spread to the rest of Venezuela, which faced similar problems.

The opposition blames failed left-wing policies of the past 15 years - initiated with the late president, Hugo Chavez - for the country's economic crisis.

The smuggling of cheap goods from Venezuela is also seen as a major problem in Colombia.

The Colombian government says it leads to a big loss in taxes and complaints of unfair competition by local businesses.

The profits from are often used to finance drug gangs and left-wing guerrillas, says the BBC's Arturo Wallace in Bogota.

President Nicolas Maduro discussed the measures with his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, at a summit on 1 August.

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