CARACAS, Venezuela, July 11 (UPI) — Up to 35,000 Venezuelans entered Colombia to buy food and medicine after border crossing was temporarily opened, William Villamizar Laguado, governor of Colombia’s Norte de Santander province, said.
Hundreds of Venezuelans began queuing since 3 a.m. on Sunday at the town of San Antonio del Tachira to cross the Simón Bolívar bridge to reach the Colombian town of Cucuta. The border crossing linking the towns has been closed since August after three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian were injured in an attack by suspected smugglers in San Antonio del Tachira.
After the attack, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro closed additional border crossings for weeks until the entire shared border was shut down.
The bridge was opened for 12 hours to allow Venezuelans to reach Cucuta so they could buy basic goods as Venezuela faces a deepening economic crisis. Venezuelans cheered “Thank you, Colombia!” as they crossed a security gate into Colombian territory. Sales on Sunday at local supermarkets tripled.
“There was a fear of food shortages, however the commerce responded well and the reserves withstood the unprecedented influx of buyers,” Gladys Navarro, director of the National Federation of Merchants of Cúcuta, told La Opinión.
Last week, about 500 Venezuelan women broke through the border to buy goods — some nearly 10 times more expensive when compared to Venezuelan prices due to the currency exchange rate.
Although the goods are more expensive in Colombia, the product is at least available for purchase. Food scarcity in Venezuela has led basic goods such as flour, sugar and rice to be missing from shelves.
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. Venezuelans who wish to travel to Colombia through the border need a special permit.
“We guarantee security on the international bridge Simón Bolívar in the return of thousands of Venezuelans to their country,” the Metropolitan Police of Cucuta said in a statement.
Garantizamos la seguridad en el puente internacional Simón Bolívar en el retorno de miles de venezolanos a su país. pic.twitter.com/zYU9uAvEAS
— CR.Jaime Barrera (@PoliciaCucuta) July 10, 2016