Colombia has decided to reopen by surprise from the early hours of this Wednesday its border crossings with Venezuela, which were kept closed for 14 months as part of the measures to contain the spread of the pandemic in its territory. It will do so “gradually” as part of the economic reactivation efforts with which it faces a critical moment in which all kinds of protests, blockades and riots are already over a month old and the authorities are also facing the third wave of the coronavirus.
The government of Ivan Duque It had already reopened since May 19 the land and river crossings with Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Panama, but it kept its decision on the porous boundary line that it shares with Venezuela, the scene of the largest migratory flow in the continent. The Executive had announced that it was studying the possibility of opening that border from June 1, but on Monday published a decree on the health emergency that extended the closure until September. However, this Tuesday, less than 24 hours later, the Interior Ministry surprised with a resolution “by which the land and river border crossings with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela are opened.”
The opening will be done gradually, according to Migración Colombia. The immigration authority announced, among other measures, 25% more officers for all immigration control posts, the installation of thermal cameras to record the passage of people, accompaniment of health authorities, as well as entry and exit times in the seven formal crosses and a system of “pico y cédula”, as the rotation is known in Colombia according to the last number of the identification document.
Faced with the collapse of the Venezuelan health system, the potential spread of covid-19 through the migratory flow on the most porous border in America-more than 2,200 kilometers full of trails or informal roads through which all kinds of smuggling have historically flowed- was from the beginning of the pandemic one of the concerns from the Colombian authorities. The Andean country is by far the main destination of the massive Venezuelan exodus, with more than 1.7 million migrants in its territory.
Bogotá and Caracas have not had relations since February 2019. Duque has given his unrestricted support as interim president of Venezuela to the opposition leader Juan Guaidó; is a fierce critic of Nicolás Maduro, whom he accuses of giving shelter in its territory to the dissidents of the FARC and the ELN guerrilla; and he has been the main promoter of a “diplomatic siege” over the Chavista regime. It has also maintained an internationally praised reception policy through thick and thin, and in February announced a temporary protection status which aims to regularize about a million undocumented Venezuelans who are in the country.
Cúcuta, the largest Colombian city on the border, has been the funnel of one of the largest flows of people in the world. There, the potential demand for health and social services in the face of the reopening, as well as the capacity of the shops, are of concern. But the permanent tensions between the two capitals prevent effective coordination, and that flow depends on difficult negotiations between immigration authorities even before the pandemic broke out. What’s more, the Chavista government has come to qualify as “biological weapons” to migrants who have returned, and Maduro has said that Duque sends “contaminated people.” So far, Caracas has given no sign that it plans to reopen its side of the border.
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