CUCUTA, Colombia – Border crossings between the Venezuelan state of Tachira and the Colombian province of Norte de Santander reopened on Saturday to pedestrian traffic after Venezuelan embattled incumbent Nicolas Maduro issued an order to that effect the day before.
Venezuelan authorities have begun allowing thousands of people to freely move from one side of the border to the other, most of whom were heading in the direction of the Colombian city of Cucuta and carrying or dragging suitcases with them, EFE observed on the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, the most important of the four crossings that link Tachira with Norte de Santander.
Maduro ordered the reopening of the border crossings between those two regions more than three months after closing them on Feb. 22, a day before Venezuelan opposition leader and National Assembly speaker Juan Guaido unsuccessfully tried to force in United States-donated humanitarian supplies from Colombia to alleviate food and medicine shortages in Venezuela.
“In full exercise of our sovereignty, I have ordered the opening of the border crossings with Colombia in Tachira State, as of this Saturday #8Jun. We are peaceful people who firmly defend our independence and self-determination,” Maduro wrote on Twitter.
The order prompted thousands of people to gather in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday on the Venezuelan side of the Simon Bolivar bridge for the chance to cross the border to Cucuta, whether to buy basic items or to emigrate from their homeland, which has been mired in a years-long economic crisis.
One of those individuals was Merwin Leon, a 38-year-old native of the northern city of Puerto Cabello who was hurrying with his wife to Cucuta and said he planned to continue on to Bucaramanga, capital of the north-central province of Santander.
“I’m going to Bucaramanga to look for medicine for my grandmother, who has high blood pressure,” Leon told EFE, adding that crossing over the Simon Bolivar bridge from San Antonio del Tachira to Cucuta was “really quick, with no problems.”
Cucuta, the capital of Norte de Santander, is connected to San Antonio by the Simon Bolivar bridge, while the Francisco de Paula Santander International Bridge links it with the city of Ureña, also located in Tachira.
A third border crossing that was completed in 2016, the Las Tienditas International Bridge, never entered into service, while the La Union bridge is a smaller structure located between the towns of Puerto Santander, Colombia, (near Cucuta) and Boca del Grita, Venezuela.
Although the crossings have been reopened to pedestrian traffic, vehicles are not allowed to circulate and the bridges remain blocked by large containers that the Venezuelan government set up in February to impede the entry of humanitarian aid from Colombia.
That decision came within the context of a bitter years-long political struggle, which intensified further when Guaido said that Maduro’s May 2018 re-election victory was marred by fraud and swore in as interim president in January.
He was subsequently recognized as such by the US, most of the major European countries and several of Venezuela’s neighbors, including Colombia.
Maduro, who has retained the loyalty of his country’s army, continues to be backed by China, Russia, India and dozens of other countries.
In blocking the aid, Maduro said that assistance was a Trojan horse and that he would be paving the way for a US-led military intervention if he allowed it to enter.
In retaliation for the humanitarian aid incident on Feb. 23, Maduro broke off all relations with Colombia, a country with which Venezuela shares a 2,219-kilometer (1,380-mile) land border.