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In midst of crisis, tens of thousands Venezuelans rush to border to buy essentials

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the border with Colombia to close last year to crack down on smuggling. (Representative Image) Photograph: (Getty)

Reuters San Antonio, United States Jul 11, 2016, 06.16 AM (IST)
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans rushed across the border to neighbouring Colombia, taking advantage of a 12-hour temporary border opening to buy much-needed food and medicine, in short supply in their home country where a severe economic crisis has caused critical shortages.

Venezuelan homemaker Ada Marquez was moved by the scene.

"I was crying as I crossed the bridge when I saw the avalanche of people. It's unbelievable to me that all of Venezuela wants to come here, to this neighbouring country, to look for the things we can't get over there. Everyday, there are fewer things," she said.

Although Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the border with Colombia to close last year to crack down on smuggling, Tachira Governor Jos? Vielma said the president authorised the opening of the border crossings on Sunday.

Nearly 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the border: Columbian governor

Thousands of Venezuelans spent the night outside the San Antonio del Tachira customs office in anticipation of the opening. Some travelled hours for the opportunity to buy much-needed food, medicine and basic goods.

Venezuelan homemaker Bernarda Oliveros said she was grateful they could buy products in Colombia.

"It's a relief to be able to come here to find our products, our medicines, that we really cannot get over there," she said.

Colombian governor William Villamizar of Norte de Santander estimated that about 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the border into nearby Colombian cities like La Parada and Cucuta.

Since Venezuelans crossed the three border bridges on foot, the Colombian government provided bus transportation to take shoppers to buy food and medicine.

'We don't have food. We don't have cooking oil' 

Colombian shops accepted the depreciating currency Venezuelan bolivar, and a Reuters witness reported that many Colombian businesses' shelves were empty by midmorning.

Millions of people spend much of their day in long lines at supermarkets and shops to try to buy basic items amid shortages caused by a decline in oil revenues in Venezuela, a country that imports almost everything it consumes, and tightly controls exchange and price.

Venezuelan Carmen Velazco said the situation is drastic.

"We don't have food. We don't have cooking oil. We don't have flour. So that is why we have to come here," she said.

Shortages have been so great and prices so high that looting has increased in Venezuela.

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