Colombia questions Venezuela's border closure to stem smuggling

BOGOTA Wed Aug 13, 2014 2:53pm EDT

Motorists drive past containers of smuggled petrol placed along a roadside in Maicao, near La Guajira region, which its close to the border with Venezuela August 15, 2012. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

Motorists drive past containers of smuggled petrol placed along a roadside in Maicao, near La Guajira region, which its close to the border with Venezuela August 15, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia on Wednesday questioned an effort by Venezuela to reduce smuggling of heavily subsidized fuel and food by shutting their shared border overnight, saying joint military cooperation would be more effective.

Venezuela shut traffic across the border into Colombia between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., beginning this week, to limit the movement of cargo vehicles in border municipalities and prevent lucrative cross-border trade.

"This is a unilateral decision by Venezuela's government," Colombia's Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin told reporters. "We don't believe that closing the border will control contraband."

Tackling the illegal movement of goods across 2,219 kilometers (1,378 miles) of shared border needs continued cooperation between the armed forces of both countries, Holguin said.

Taking advantage of Venezuela's heavily subsidized consumer goods, smugglers buy up everything from gasoline and diesel to cooking oil and corn flour. The goods are then driven across the border to Colombia, where they can be resold for a quick profit.

Since July, Venezuela has impounded 21,000 tonnes of food that smugglers attempted 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 during 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 with the gaping price differences in goods between Venezuela and Colombia, the border restrictions are unlikely to have a long-term impact on the problem.

(Reporting by Monica Garcia; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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