Colombia, Venezuela defense ministers meeting in Caracas over closed border

CARACAS, Venezuela, June 30 (UPI) — Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas was expected to meet with Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López on Thursday to discuss security on the 1,400-mile shared border which has been closed for nearly a year.

In August, President Nicolas Maduro increasingly ordered the closure of more and more of Venezuela’s border with Colombia after three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian were injured in an attack by suspected smugglers in the border town of San Antonia del Tachira.

Maduro then began a crackdown on suspected smugglers in the region and declared a state of emergency in several municipalities. More than 2,000 Colombians living illegally in Venezuela were deported and about 22,000 Colombians were estimated to have left in fear of deportation. Venezuela in late September said deported Colombians who “legalized” their status in Venezuela could return.

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Colombia and Venezuela’s 1,400-mile border is porous and highly unregulated. The border is often used by smugglers to purchase heavily subsidized goods in Venezuela to resell in Colombia for a profit.

Talks about reopening and securing the border between Colombia and Venezuela stalled in October. Villegas and Padrino López will meet to “resume discussions on the common border security and the fight against organized crime.”

“During this meeting in Caracas, the Minister Villegas hopes to coordinate operations near the border, to consolidate higher levels of public safety and to combat crime, especially smuggling and extortion,” the Colombian defense ministry said in a statement.

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