Venezuela Reopens Colombian Border

BOGOTA, Colombia (Miami Herald/TNS) -

In the latest whiplash policy decision, Venezuela announced it is reopening the border with Colombia on Tuesday, just days after it had announced the 1,274-mile frontier would be closed until Jan. 2.

The surprise declaration came from Ernesto Villegas, Venezuela’s communications minister, in a series of tweets. Villegas said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos had spoken late Monday and agreed to “gradually reopen” the border.

Venezuela’s state-run media said foot traffic would resume early Tuesday. Colombia’s immigration office could not immediately confirm the news.

Maduro abruptly closed the busy frontier on Dec. 13 — the same day the nation began recalling its most widely circulated bill, the 100 bolivar note. Citing national intelligence, Maduro said Colombian border towns, particularly Cucuta, were part of an international scheme to hoard hundreds of millions of the notes in order to destabilize the Venezuelan economy. By closing the borders, Maduro said he was punishing the currency “mafias.”

But the move has also left thousands stranded with worthless bills and provoked widespread anger in Venezuela when the government failed to provide new, higher-denomination bills.

For Venezuelans, who have endured months of food shortages, the response spilled into the streets. Over the weekend, looting in Bolivar state left at least three dead and more than 400 detained. The Fedecamaras business chamber said at least 350 stores were sacked. The chaos led Maduro on Saturday to revive the 100 bolivar bill through Jan. 2. But at the same time he said the border with Colombia would remain closed until after January 1, leaving travelers stuck.

Amid protests from Colombia — and Monday’s phone call — Venezuela decided to reverse course. In his tweets, Villegas said Santos and Maduro had also agreed to have a conversation about the “attack” on the currency.

Santos is scheduled to travel to Cucuta Tuesday to talk about the border situation with the local business community, but he’s insisted that Venezuela’s problems are not Colombia’s fault.

The border news comes as Venezuela seems to be entering a renewed period of unrest amid the economic crisis, which features a shrinking economy and hyperinflation. After a prolonged period of relative calm, factions of the country’s opposition on Tuesday are planning to hold a national protest demanding Maduro’s ouster.