Venezuela to close Colombia border at night to slow smuggling

CARACAS Sat Aug 9, 2014 7:41pm EDT

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela will close its border with neighboring Colombia at night to prevent smuggling of heavily subsidized fuel and food, a top military officer said on Saturday.

The government will shut traffic across the border between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. starting Monday, and limit movement of cargo vehicles in border municipalities to prevent lucrative cross-border trade.

"With these measures we are increasing the mechanisms to minimize contraband," Gen. Vladimir Padrino said on state television.

Venezuela's heavy subsidies on consumer goods allow smugglers to buy up products ranging from gasoline and diesel to cooking oil and corn flour, then drive the goods across the border to Colombia, where they can be resold for a quick profit.

Padrino said the government as of July had impounded 21,000 tonnes of food that smugglers were attempting to take across the border, more than the total amount impounded in 2013. The government also has impounded 40 million liters (10.6 million gallons) of gasoline over the same period this year.

Filling the tank of a small vehicle costs about 38 cents in Venezuela, one quarter the price of a medium-sized bottle of water.

Critics say the gaping price disparities between the cost of goods in Venezuela and that of neighboring countries means such measures are unlikely to have a long-term impact on the problem.

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by David Gregorio)

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