Facts recalling Venezuela’s border problems with Colombia:
? Venezuela has a long tradition of welcoming Colombian migrants; be they economic migrants, political refugees, or any other kind. There are approximately 5.6 million Colombian immigrants in Venezuela, of a total population of 30 million. The truth is that Venezuela has cooperated in a consistent and inexhaustible fashion with Colombia and its people, something which is evidenced in the hundreds of treaties of cooperation and in the fraternal welcome of the millions of Colombian citizens that immigrated to the country in the context of the conflict that the country has suffered for over 50 years.
? Venezuela has achieved international recognition for its efforts in welcoming Colombian refugees. Venezuela has welcomed millions of Colombians with the greatest solidarity and protection, as is well documented by the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees of the United Nations and the World Bank, among others.
? The country has suffered the consequences not only of the internal conflict underway in Colombia, but also the Colombian state’s lack of control over violent paramilitary groups and criminal activity in and around the joint border. Of these issues, one of the most prescient is the smuggling of contraband items out of Venezuela, taking advantage of the price controls in place on essential items in Venezuela- making such cross-border operations extremely lucrative, at the expense of the Venezuelan people who have to deal with the shortages caused as a result of these operations. The items that are subject to being smuggled as contraband include, but are not limited to, immeasurable quantities of foodstuffs, medicines, machinery and equipment and, of course, petrol among all sorts of provision and attacks on the Venezuelan national currency, the Bolivar.
? The government of Venezuela calls for its counterpart to assume its own socio-economic responsibilities with its citizens, and tackle the crimes committed within its own territory, so that they do not have to be resolved outside its borders. Venezuela asks Colombia for absolute engagement with its responsibility in putting an end to the criminal acts perpetrated by persons, paramilitary groups or organised crime who operate outside the law, as a result of the indifference of the Colombian State to confront these groups, who commit crimes against human rights, and create the obligation to entirely fix the harm caused by the losses and injuries, in part derived from the lack of attention to its duties as a State.
Timeline of recent events in the border between Venezuela and Colombia:
19th of August 2015: President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela announced the temporary closure of the border between Colombia and Venezuela in Tachira state (south west of Venezuela) for a period of 72 hours, launching a so-called ‘People’s Liberation Operation (OLP)’ in the area in order to detain the perpetrators of an ambush against members of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces that same day, resulting in the injury of two military personnel.
21st of August 2015: The Venezuelan leader extended the border closure and decreed a state of emergency in 6 border municipalities in the state of Táchira (Bolivar, Pedro Maria Urena, Junin, Capacho Nuevo, Capacho Viejo and Rafael Urdaneta).
26th of August: A meeting of the foreign ministers of Venezuela and Colombia (Delcy Rodriguez and Maria Angela Holguin, respectively) was held in which an agreement wasn’t reached in respect to the closure or the possible re-opening of the border. A meeting was pencilled in of the two countries’ ombudsmen to establish ‘the protocol for deportations from Colombia to Venezuela’.
27th of August: The President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, called its Ambassador in Venezuela Ricardo Lozana in for consultations. This measure was reciprocated by the Venezuelan government which called its Ambassador in Colombia, Ivan Dario Rincon, in for consultations that very day.
28th of August: President Maduro extended the border closure to another 4 municipalities in Tachira (Lobatera, Garcia de Hevia, Ayacucho, Panamericano) and 3 days later decreed a state of emergency in those same municipalities. The Venezuelan president embarked on a tour that saw him visiting Vietnam, China and Qatar.
31st of August: The Organisation of American States (OAS) held a meeting but did not reach a consensus on organising a conference of the foreign ministers of the countries which make up the organisation (34) to tackle the border issues.
7th of September: The Venezuelan president decrees a state of emergency in 3 municipalities in the state of Zulia, north west Venezuela (Guajira, Mara and Almirante Padilla), at the same time ordering the closure of the border crossing in Paraguachon, in Zulia.
8th of September: The governor of Tachira, Jose Vielma Mora, reported that the Operation for the Liberation of the People (OLP) that had been underway in the region, with 7 paramilitaries belonging to the Los Urabeños being killed, while 8 others had been detained.
Figures on the reception of Colombian refugees and immigrants in Venezuela:
• 85% of Colombians who have fled their country as a result of internal conflict or a poor economic situation reside in Venezuela; with the remaining 15% in other countries.
• The Venezuelan government has built and assigned in the last years some 800,000 houses to those in need; 25% of those have been assigned to Colombians.
• Venezuela is the country with the greatest amount of refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean; as well as receiving the second greatest amount of refugees in the Western hemisphere and being among the top 24-25 in the world. (According to data published by different reports of the World Bank between 2010 and 2014, and by a 2014 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR])
• In 2014, Venezuela could count with more than 204,000 protected people in its territory, 95% of them from Colombia, according to the World Bank.
• The US welcomes the most refugees in the Western Hemisphere, with 263,000; however its total population is 300 million, 10 times greater than that of Venezuela’s population. Expressed as a percentage (ratio?) of people, Venezuela hosts more than 10 times more refugees than the US.
• The UNHCR counts with support centres for refugees and/or displaced people in the Venezuelan states of Apure, Táchira and Zulia, where special support is given to Colombian refugees.
• In 2011, a law was passed known as the Organic Law for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, which protects the right to seek refuge, while article 12 of the same law established the Venezuelan National Commission for Refugees.
• In May 2015, the UNHCR recognised our country as a state that complies with international treaties on Human Rights.
• In 2003, Venezuela signed a ‘Memorandum of understanding between Venezuela and Colombia on the treatment of displaced persons in Colombian territory who reach the Venezuelan border’, with the goal of attending to the victims of the Colombian War.
• The Vice President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza, said on the 4th of September that following the closure of the Colombian-Venezuelan border, the Bolivarian Government has established a “humanitarian corridor” for 350 schoolchildren registered, both Venezuelan and Colombian, so they can cross the border into Colombia and continue their education in schools of that country.
• He also noted that the Bolivarian Government is guaranteeing the right to work for Colombians living in Colombia and working in companies located in the Venezuelan border municipalities. Therefore, Venezuelan authorities have asked employers for the details of all their employees on their payroll.