Panama offers to mediate as Colombia-Venezuela crisis intensifies

The government of Panama has offered to mediate to help Colombia and Venezuela put an end to a humanitarian crisis and commercial disruptions following more than 10 days of closed borders amid a lack of dialogue.

The Panamanian foreign ministry office released a statement Sunday stating its vice president and foreign minister, Isabel de Saint Malo de Alvarado, has offered both Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez help in ending the problem through mediated dialogue.

"It is a very serious issue and it is very worrisome to Panama, especially in what concerns the affected people,” Vice President Saint Malo de Alvarado said, according to the statement.

Hours earlier, Holguin had said during a press conference that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had tried to call Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, but there has been no reply.

“We are waiting (for Maduro) to return the call,” she said. She added that Colombia has shown “patience” and tried to approach Maduro following his public call for dialogue even as it came “after insults.”

Maduro, who ordered the closing of the border with Colombia on August 20 to control smuggling of products and protect himself and Venezuela from armed groups, had said publicly that he was seeking dialogue.

Holguin said her country wants to expose the situation before authorities of Unasur, which groups together 12 South American countries.

While hundreds of deportations from late in August have slowed, many others have left Venezuela because they are afraid. This flow has created a crisis in Colombia, where the central and regional governments are struggling to given them shelter.

“This is something that should not be repeated neither in this continent nor elsewhere in the world,” Holguin said. “They went to Venezuela because they were promised subsidies and housing and not as Maduro says that it happened due to poverty and a conflict." 

Holguin added that Colombia´s concern is to help families that may have been divided by the deportations get together. She offered citizenship to all Venezuelans married to Colombians.

On the website of the Venezuelan  president, Maduro´s government said it rejected any interference from the European Union, which had warned on Aug. 29 about the humanitarian consequences of the border closing.

Venezuela´s government has also reiterated that it closed the border because it is a “victim of the aggression of drug trafficking mafias, paramilitary groups and of an economic, systematic guerrilla from Colombian territory which took (Venezuela) to adopt legitimate, sovereign and legal decisions that must be respected.”

Maduro said Monday in Vietnam, where he is traveling, that Santos has plans to kill him.

Reports from the area have said that multiple businesses along the border -- such as currency exchange agencies, transportation companies and stores that sold multiple products to Venezuelans facing a scarcity of goods in their countries -- are hurt by the border closing.