While on a state visit to Vietnam, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused the Colombian government of approving a plan to assassinate him, as both countries struggle to garner regional support over an ongoing border dispute that has resulted in steadily worsening diplomatic relations. No further details or evidence to back up his accusation were forthcoming from the Venezuelan leader, who has in the past accused the Colombian government of trying to topple his administration.
Maduro’s remarks came as an emergency meeting of diplomats was held at the Organization of American States in Washington to discuss the deteriorating relationship between the two South American powers and the humanitarian crisis it has provoked. So far, Venezuela has closed six border crossings and forced around 10,000 Colombians who have been living illegally in Venezuela back across the border. On Thursday last week Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos condemned Venezuela’s actions as unacceptable and ordered the withdrawal of his ambassador. “I have favoured dialogue and diplomacy and I will keep doing so, but I cannot allow Venezuela to treat Colombia and Colombians this way,” Santos said in Bogota. In response, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez announced that Caracas would also be recalling its own ambassador to Colombia for further consultations. A day later, President Maduro declared a state of emergency in the western state of Tachira, after smugglers in the troubled border region injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian.
For many years, Venezuela has been a destination of choice for Colombians who wanted to escape from conflict and seek out a better life in the wealthy, oil-rich country, and Maduro has promised to maintain his position until Colombian authorities help to restore order to the porous 2,200 kilometre border. It is, however, possible that the Venezuelan leader has been motivated by factors other than the desire to control undocumented migration and paramilitary activity. Falling oil prices and inadequate currency and price controls have led to nationwide shortages of basic commodities which in turn have led to widespread looting and criminality. As Venezuela’s December 6 elections grow ever nearer, it is possible that Nicolas Maduro has exaggerated the seriousness of the border crisis to distract voters from the steep downturn in the economy and the failures of his own administration.