By Cesar Zafra
What used to be a consistently active international bridge now isolates two neighboring countries from easy access to each other. The Simón Bólivar Bridge connects Venezuela and Colombia, allowing thousands of migrants to travel back and forth rather than having to migrate through the inconvenient rural paths of the land. Venezuela, a more prosperous country in comparison to Colombia, cracked down on Colombian migrants seeking a better life than what their native land could offer.
The government conducted a lockdown on the country and those attempting to cross the border were denied. President Nicolás Maduro declared a state of emergency along sections of the border separating the two countries, his reasons being an alleged assault against Venezuelan patrol by an unofficial paramilitary organization linked to Colombia and an unrestrained smuggling of Venezuelan commodities. A swell of economic inflation, an increasing violence issue, and a diminishing supply of food and other necessary commodities also led to his decision to deport the Colombian migrants.
“Who comes over from Colombia? It’s people practically without education,” said Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro according to The Wall Street Journal. “I’m not offending Colombia, I’m just telling a truth…From Colombia, all of the poverty and misery is coming over with a people who are escaping for economic needs and fleeing war.”
Due to the deportation’s instant, unexpected nature, those who set up their homes and stabilized their lives in Venezuela for years scrambled to take all they could handle with them. Thousands of Colombians were reported to have either fled or manually be expelled from the country by Venezuelan army officials. Thus, an influx of people in need of immediate shelter and service caused a humanitarian emergency.
Colombian inhabitants lived in unconventional homes inside a deprived area unknown on the map of Venezuela, nicknamed “La Invasion” or The Invasion. Given 72 hours to vacate their homes, people carried mattresses, television sets, kitchen appliances, furniture, and other prized possessions across the 10-meter wide Tachira River in order to reach their native country.
Handerles Suárez, a 25 year old Colombian construction worker whom awaited his family to cross the border defined the dilemma as “heartbreaking.” Having lived in Venezuela for 10 years, he cried as he explained to The New York Times that “Venezuela has given us everything, it’s been like a second mother to us.”
“You just want to lie down and never wake up,” Tatiana Cerna, a Colombian mother who was living legally with her husband and child in Venezuela told The New York Times. “If they want to stop the smuggling, I think the national guard itself is involved. To come and knock all [those homes] down is not the solution.”
President of Colombia Juan Samuel Santos spoke against Maduro’s decision before the foreign ministers of both nations held an emergency meeting.
“Raiding homes, removing people by force, separating families, not letting them remove the few goods they own and marking their homes for demolition are totally unacceptable practices,” according to the Associated Press. ”They recall the bitterest episodes in history that can’t be repeated.”
Despite harsh criticism from officials, the impending pressure of legislative elections in December, and even Donald Trump presidential comparisons, Maduro has no plans of retracting the orders he instructed the government and army to follow. There is a possibility that other transit crossings will be restricted and the state of emergency will spread to other parts of Venezuela. The border will continue to be unaccessible “indefinitely.”
“Venezuela won’t tolerate this anymore,” the president said, recorded by the Associated Press.