Expert discusses Colombian-Venezuelan border closing

Venezuela´s decision to close its border with Colombia, allegedly for security reasons, is an unsustainable attempt to blame an external enemy for deep scarcity problems caused by internal market distortions, Maria Teresa Belandria, a university professor in Caracas and expert on border issues said.

Belandria made the comments Friday, two days after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that Venezuela has saved “$2.5 billion in extraction of fuel” since it closed its border with Colombia on Aug. 20, because Colombian paramilitary troops allegedly attacked Venezuelan soldiers.

“Official information by government is not trustworthy because there is not any figure than can be audited,” she said. “By closing the border, what the government pretends to do is to keep more supplies for the public network of markets, as well as seek internal cohesion by creating an external enemy, all in anticipation of elections.

“They are betting that for the next electoral process on Dec. 6 they can give to people the sensation that markets are well-supplied,” she said. 

Venezuela is suffering from a deep scarcity of food and basic products, not just in Caracas but especially in the interior of the country. The border closing helps to keep products in Venezuela.

“They have already said that they are saving an important volume of gasoline and that is true,” she said. By closing the border, fuel smuggling both by private individuals and by corrupt security forces has ended.

However, the smuggling of fuel and food items and other products exists because of distortions created by government policies like price controls. These made it possible to transport a product from Venezuela to Colombia and sell it there at multiple times the price it would fetch in Venezuela, Belandria said.

Venezuelan policies to keep official exchange rates for the U.S. dollar between 6.30 to 12.50 bolivars when the value in the streets can exceed 700 bolivars is another distortion. Keeping the price of gasoline in Venezuela below the price of water is also the cause of the problem while the smuggling is only the consequence, she said. 

While keeping the border with Colombia closed “cannot be sustainable because the interdependence of both countries is so great," especially at a family level, the government probably calculates it can keep it closed for a few more weeks, she said.

Belandria said that the scarcity situation is “terrible” and that on Friday, for example, there was a line at the entrance of a market in the east of Caracas named Bicentenario that extended all the way into the highway as people stood in line long before it opened.

“There are lines of people in front of all stores to buy products, medicines, formula for babies,” she said. This occurs even as the government favors Caracas to other areas of the countries to prevent more discontent which could produce popular uprisings, she added.