Venezuelan women push past border controls for food

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Border crossings between Venezuela's Tachira state and Colombia have been closed since August

About 500 Venezuelan women in search of food have broken through border controls separating the western state of Tachira from neighbouring Colombia.

The women said their families were going hungry because of severe food shortages in Venezuela.

Hours later, they crossed back into Venezuela carrying basic goods and singing the Venezuelan anthem.

Venezuela is going through an economic crisis and many Venezuelans say they struggle to feed their families.

Concerted action

The women said they had organised to meet at the border via the instant messaging service WhatsApp.

Dressed in white, they gathered on the bridge linking the cities of Urena in Venezuela and Cucuta in Colombia.

Hundreds of them pushed past the Venezuelan National Guard and walked across the border, which has been closed for almost a year.

One of the women told Colombian media: "We're desperate, we have nothing: no cooking oil, no sugar, no rice."

What is behind the shortages?

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Venezuelans say their fridges are empty due to the shortages
  • Venezuela grows and produces very little except oil and has historically relied on imports to feed its people
  • Oil prices have plummeted leaving the government with a shortfall of income
  • A lack of dollars means it is struggling to import all the goods its people need and want
  • The socialist government introduced price controls on some basic goods in 2003 to make them affordable to the poor
  • But up to 40% of subsidised goods were smuggled across to Colombia to be sold at a profit
  • The opposition blames government mismanagement for the shortages
  • The government says the shortages are the result of an economic war being waged against it

After buying food and other goods which are scarce in Venezuela, they again gathered at the the border post asking the Colombian guards to let them pass.

They crossed back into Venezuela singing the national anthem. Others shouted "yes, we can" and thanked the Colombian security forces for letting them through.

'Economic war'

Venezuela closed large parts of its border with Colombia in August 2015 to prevent subsidised good from being smuggled from Venezuela into Colombia.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he would further boost Venezuela's military

Venezuelans who want to cross into Colombia in states where the border has been closed need a special permit to do so.

But as the scarcity of food gets worse in Venezuela, many have crossed the porous border illegally.

Colombian officials said a similar incident had happened in Puerto Santander, 60km north of Cucuta, in June, when 400 Venezuelans crossed into Colombia to buy essential goods.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Venezuelans have been crossing into Colombia by boat to buy food as here in Puerto Santanders

Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin is due to travel to Cucuta on Wednesday to speak to the local authorities about a possible plan of action, officials said.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has blamed the shortages on an "economic war" being waged against his government.

At a military parade to mark independence day on Tuesday, he said that Venezuela's military power had to keep growing to counter the "unconventional war" he was facing.

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