VILLA DEL ROSARIO, Colombia – Numerous thousand Venezuelans, distressed for food and medicine, crammed a border crossing to Colombia on Saturday, June 8, hours after President Nicolas Maduro partly reopened it.
Maduro had the day previous ordered the reopening of the Venezuelan border in the western state of Tachira, near the location in Colombia where the international community had massed humanitarian aid that Maduro’s government refused to take.
Thousands of people rushed to the border bridges between the two countries, and crowds in long queues stretched throughout that early Saturday.
“My two daughters have dengue. They have a fever, and I had to come get care in Colombia,” stated Belky Rangel, 34, about to burst into tears after waiting 3 hours with her two daughters, 5 and 8, to cross to Cucuta.
18,000 people had crossed the border from Venezuela and 8,000 from Colombia on midday, recalled the head of the Migration Service in Colombia, Christian Krueger.
Before the border closed in February, about 30,000 people traversed the Simon Bolivar International Bridge every day, from San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela, to Cucuta, official data show.
But containers deposited on the Venezuelan side to prevent any entry of humanitarian aid, considered by the government a potential pretext for foreign military intervention, were still in place.
Carlos Julio Perez, 55 said that “They have not moved the containers at all. It is so hard getting across. There are so many people” on the Venezuelan side. Perez waited hours to go to a medical appointment on the Colombian side.
When the border was closed, many Venezuelans spanned via hidden trails linking the two countries, putting themselves at the mercy of smugglers and armed groups.
The South American nation is suffering from shortages of food, medicine, and other essentials amid a power struggle between socialist Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries including the United States.
“We are a people of peace that strongly defends our independence and self-determination.” Maduro after announcing the reopening of the frontier on Twitter
Maduro, however, did not say if other key border bridges, closed since August 2015 after two Venezuelan soldiers were wounded by suspected smugglers, would be unblocked.
More than 3 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015 to flee the worst economic crisis in the oil-rich country’s recent history.