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Venezuela closes largest border crossing with Colombia in anti-'mafia' effort

By Andrew V. Pestano
People are blocked from crossing the Colombian-Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia on December, 13 2016. Venezuelan President Maduro on December 12 ordered the closure of the border with Colombia for 72 hours to deal with what he calls 'mafias' operating in the zone and smuggling Venezuelan currency out of the country, a measure that comes on the heels of his decision to withdraw the 100-bolivar bill from circulation. Photo by Schenyder Mendoza/European Pressphoto Agency
People are blocked from crossing the Colombian-Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia on December, 13 2016. Venezuelan President Maduro on December 12 ordered the closure of the border with Colombia for 72 hours to deal with what he calls 'mafias' operating in the zone and smuggling Venezuelan currency out of the country, a measure that comes on the heels of his decision to withdraw the 100-bolivar bill from circulation. Photo by Schenyder Mendoza/European Pressphoto Agency

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Venezuela has closed its border between the cities of San Antonio del Táchira and Colombia's Cucuta to enforce efforts against the "mafia."

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro made the decision to close the border to enforce his recent decree in which he ordered the largest Venezuelan banknote to be removed from circulation -- threatening arrest for those who violate the order.

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Maduro has called the efforts the "Coup Against the Mafia."

"I have given the order ... to close immediately, all the terrestrial and aerial maritime possibilities so that they do not return all those notes that were taken from Venezuela," Maduro said.

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Maduro said he decided to take the 100 bolivar bill out of circulation to inhibit "mafias" he accuses of hoarding cash mainly in Colombia but also Brazil. He said an investigation revealed national banks were seeking to destabilize Venezuela's economy through a non-governmental organization contracted by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

"Let's destroy the mafia before the mafias destroy our country and our economy," Maduro said during a televised address. "This measure was inevitable, it was necessary ... The mafias will go bust."

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The Venezuelan head of state has often accused the United States of working against the socialist government left behind by late former President Hugo Chavez. Maduro accuses the United States of supporting the Venezuelan opposition and corporations as part of an "economic war" against his administration.

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Venezuela is going through an economic crisis exacerbated by a fall in oil prices, which has led to a shortage of basic goods -- including food and medicine. Goods are also unaffordable due to record-high inflation.

The Colombian and Venezuelan border was partially closed last August and later completely closed by Maduro last year after three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian were injured in an attack by suspected smugglers in Venezuela's San Antonio del Tachira border town in the state of Táchira.

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

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