BOGOTA (Reuters) - The ongoing crisis on the border between Colombia and Venezuela should not be used for political point-scoring by leaders in either country ahead of elections in coming months, the Colombian government said on Tuesday.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro shut two border crossings last week after a shootout between smugglers and troops wounded three soldiers. He later extended the closing indefinitely and stepped up deportations of Colombians in what he said was an effort to crack down on paramilitary gangs.
“We call upon the political leadership in both countries to resist the easy temptation of using this complex situation to fish for electoral benefits as we approach elections in Colombia and Venezuela,” the foreign and interior ministries said in a joint statement.
Critics of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos say he has taken a weak tack with Maduro’s Socialist government after years of bilateral tensions.
Colombia holds local and regional elections on Oct. 6. The right-wing opposition led by ex-president Alvaro Uribe, among other parties, will challenge Santos’s center-right coalition.
Uribe blasted Maduro’s “dictatorship” as he visited Cucuta, on the border of Venezuela on Monday. Under Uribe’s presidency, bilateral ties soured and trade between the countries plummeted.
Maduro, who is gearing up for Dec. 6 parliamentary elections, on Monday evening blamed Colombian paramilitaries, smugglers and Uribe for many of Venezuela’s woes.
Venezuela’s opposition says Maduro is using the crisis to distract from chronic shortages of basic goods including medicines and flour, soaring inflation and what the United Nations says is the world’s second-highest murder rate.
Since the border crossings were closed, more than 1,000 Colombians have been deported from Venezuela, including some minors who were separated from their parents, a Colombian immigration official told Reuters.
“It is unacceptable to take advantage of the situation at the border and the pain of so many Colombian for political gain,” the statement said.
Shutting the crossings and deporting Colombians will not solve security problems along the border, the ministries said, adding that dialogue was the way to a solution.
The porous 2,219-kilometer (1,379-mile) frontier is frequently traversed by smugglers moving price-fixed goods from Venezuela to Colombia for profit, as well as illegal armed groups.
The two countries’ foreign ministers will meet on Wednesday to discuss the situation, both countries said.
Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by W Simon