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Venezuela re-opens border with Colombia

By Andrew V. Pestano
Venezuela re-opens border with Colombia
People are blocked from crossing from Cucuta, Colombia, into Venezuela on December 13. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday said he agreed to re-open the border after speaking with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Maduro last week closed the border in anti-"mafia" efforts over accusations organizations contracted by the U.S. Department of State are seeking to destabalize the Venezuelan economy. Photo by Schenyder Mendoza/European Pressphoto Agency

SAN ANTONIO DEL TáCHIRA, Venezuela, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has agreed to gradually re-open the country's border with Colombia after closing down travel for eight days in anti-"mafia" efforts.

Maduro made the decision to reopen the border between Venezuela's city of San Antonio del Táchira and Colombia's Cucuta after a phone conversation with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

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Speaking from Cucuta after meeting with regional authorities, Santos said Colombia needs more of Venezuela's help to combat smuggling. Colombia and Venezuela's 1,400-mile border is porous and highly unregulated, and often is used by smugglers who purchase heavily subsidized goods in Venezuela to resell in Colombia for a profit.

"We need more collaboration from both sides to fight against smuggling, because smuggling does not suit absolutely anyone," Santos said during a televised speech.

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The re-opening of the border will allow Venezuelans to travel to Colombia to purchase basic goods, as Venezuela is facing an economic crisis in which items such as food, toiletries and medicines are in short supply, unavailable or unaffordable due to unprecedented inflation.

Maduro last week ordered the border closure shortly after announcing Venezuela's 100 bolivar banknote would be removed from circulation.

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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.

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

Venezuela delayed the revocation of the 100 bolivar bill until early January because new currency notes issued by the Central Bank of Venezuela were not dispersed quickly enough.

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