Venezuela

More than 35,000 Venezuelans cross border during 12-hour food shopping spree

A man who was waiting in line at a grocery store argues with a Bolivarian National Police officer as people continue to wait for food, sold at regulated prices, to arrive at the Venezuelan store in Caracas on June 8.
A man who was waiting in line at a grocery store argues with a Bolivarian National Police officer as people continue to wait for food, sold at regulated prices, to arrive at the Venezuelan store in Caracas on June 8. AP

Venezuela made the surprise move of opening its border with Colombia for 12 hours on Sunday, allowing tens of thousands of people to buy food and medicine, which have been in short supply in the socialist nation.

Colombian officials said more than 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the border to do their shopping.

The move came after hundreds of desperate women illegally entered Colombia last week amid the growing crisis.

Venezuela and Colombia share a porous 1,274-mile frontier, but 11 months ago, President Nicolás Maduro unexpectedly and unilaterally shut border crossings, saying rampant smuggling was generating shortages of food and basic products.

Sunday’s action seems to be the first time Caracas has acknowledged that the measure isn’t working.

Christian Kruger, the director of Colombian Migration, said he expected there would be more “humanitarian corridors” in coming days and weeks.

“Colombia understands the situation of the neighboring country and that’s why we’ve allowed these people to come in and buy products,” he told El Tiempo newspaper.

But the opening of the border is up to Venezuela, he acknowledged.

Crisis Control

The opening — albeit brief and temporary — comes as Maduro is struggling to fend off multiple economic and political threats.

As hunger has caused riots, looting and general unrest, the opposition is pushing for a recall referendum and the international community is urging him to open up dialogue with his foes.

In recent days, the coalition of opposition forces, known as the MUD, have said they’re open to talks but will not sacrifice their constitutional right to end Maduro’s term before 2019.

Over the weekend, opposition leaders began holding rallies in different parts of the country to demand that the National Electoral Council green-light the next stage of presidential recall, which would require them to gather 3.9 million signatures in three days.

Organizers are racing against the clock. If the recall happens this year it would trigger new elections that the socialist administration would likely lose. If it’s delayed until after Jan. 10, as some fear, then Maduro’s vice president would finish out his term.

“The recall referendum means peace and independence for our country and would allow our people to emerge from this crisis,” Henrique Capriles, the opposition governor of Miranda state and a former presidential candidate, said in a statement. “This goes far beyond ousting Maduro. We have to change the entire system to end hunger, the lines and the lack of food and medicine.”

Across Venezuela, cities are erupting in protests and looting over food shortages. Nicholas Casey, The New York Times’s Andes bureau chief, and the photographer Meridith Kohut provide a view from the ground.

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