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Colombia, Brazil tighten borders

9/2/2018 12:13
        Colombia and
        Brazil tightened border controls with Venezuela on Thursday as
        both nations grapple with a mounting influx of hundreds of
        thousands of desperate migrants fleeing a worsening economic
        crisis.
        
        In a visit to the border region, Colombian President Juan
        Manuel Santos said he would impose stricter migratory controls,
        suspend new daily entry cards for Venezuelans and deploy 3,000
        new security personnel along the frontier, including 2,120 more
        soldiers.
        
        Speaking in Cucuta, a Colombian border city of about 670,000
        inhabitants, Santos warned that his government would strictly
        prosecute any unlawful behavior by Venezuelans, amid concerns
        over rising crime. He said Colombia was spending millions of
        dollars to support the migrants.
        
        Brazil's Defense Minister Raul Jungmann, speaking in the
        northern border town of Boa Vista, said the government would
        also deploy more troops and start relocating tens of thousands
        of Venezuelan refugees who have crossed the open frontier to
        seek food, work and shelter.
        
        Both countries said they would take measures to count the
        number of Venezuelan migrants who have entered their territory:
        Brazil through a census and Colombia through a registry.
        
        The moves to tighten border security could threaten a key
        social safety valve for desperate Venezuelans as hyperinflation
        and a severe recession grip their oil-rich country.
        
        The steps also signaled a mounting regional frustration with
        Venezuela's unpopular President Nicolas Maduro, who will seek
        re-election on April 22 amid conditions that the United States
        and other countries say are stacked against a divided
        opposition.
        
        Maduro is expected to win reelection despite a recession
        that is now in its fifth year.
        
        "I want to repeat to President Maduro - this is the result
        of your policies, it is not the fault of Colombians and it's the
        result of your refusal to receive humanitarian aid which has
        been offered in every way, not just from Colombia but from the
        international community," Santos said.
        
        Venezuelan government officials did not return requests for
        comment, and Maduro steered clear of the topic during a late
        afternoon speech.
        
        
        
        GROWING RESENTMENT
        
        On Thursday, the United States condemned the Venezuelan
        government's decision this week to set a date for the
        presidential election in the absence of guarantees that it will
        be free and fair.
        
        The move came after the collapse of mediation talks in the
        Dominican Republic between Maduro's government and an opposition
        coalition.
        
        The opposition had lobbied for the elections to be delayed
        until later in the year to give it more time to choose a
        candidate, since its top two leaders are barred from running.
        
        Members of the so-called Lima Group monitoring the crisis in
        Venezuela, which includes several Latin American nations and
        Canada, were due to meet in Peru next week to craft a response
        to Maduro's decision to press ahead with the vote.
        
        Colombia has born the brunt of the exodus of Venezuelans
        fleeing malnutrition and political turmoil in their once
        prosperous nation: the number living within its borders jumped
        by 62 percent in the second half of last year to more than
        550,000.
        
        In Brazil's northern border region of Roraima, migrants have
        strained public services and stirred anger among some residents,
        particularly in Boa Vista, the local capital.
        
        In a sign of growing resentment in the city of 300,000
        inhabitants, two gasoline bombs were thrown through open windows
        into houses where migrants were sleeping early on Thursday,
        authorities said.
        
        The attack caused second degree burns to a 3-year-old girl
        and injured her parents. It followed a similar attack in the
        same neighborhood on Monday in which a woman was burnt.
        
        "Everything points to xenophobia," Roraima state's public
        security secretary Giuliana Castro told Reuters by telephone.
        "It is unacceptable violence against innocent people."
        
        Santos, who has repeatedly clashed with Maduro over the
        migration issue, urged his countrymen to avoid hostility toward
        their neighbors.
        
        "The problem of the Venezuelan migrants has been growing.
        It's a complex problem; a problem that we are not used to,"
        Santos said during his visit to an aid warehouse, surrounded by
        ministers and local officials.
        
        Colombia estimates that it costs $5 per day to supply each
        Venezuelan migrant with food and lodging. The government did not
        say how many migrants it was supporting.
        
        While Venezuelan professionals such as doctors and engineers
        have found work in Colombia's big cities or its oil industry,
        the bulk of the poor have settled in border towns.
        
        "It's good Juan Manuel is coming to see the calamity of the
        border, because on the Venezuelan side we're dying of hunger and
        can't get medicine," said Venezuelan Carmen Garcia, a
        55-year-old vegetable seller, referring to the Colombian
        president.
        
        "I ask the Colombian president to keep receiving us and not
        close the border."
        



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