Colombia, Brazil tighten borders
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
"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
"I ask the Colombian president to keep receiving us and not
close the border."