By Maria Paz Salas
SANTIAGO, Chile (AA) – Venezuela and Colombia agreed Tuesday to reopen their shared border after an eight-day closure.
The decision to close the border was ordered by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who said it was a way to combat the smuggling of Venezuelan paper currency into the neighboring country. The measure also was initially extended to the border with Brazil.
Maduro had also decided to simultaneously eliminate the 100 bolivar bill beginning Dec. 16, but after riots erupted in several cities, he extended the validity of the bills until Jan. 2.
Following a telephone conversation Monday between Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the leaders agreed to reopen the gates.
Dozens of Venezuelan residents living in cities along the border managed to pass through the connecting bridges between the two countries to try to stock up on staples that are scarce in Venezuela.
Hours before the two leaders held their conversation, Santos criticized the Venezuelan government. “The problem of Venezuela and its economic situation it is not in the border or in Colombia. It is there in Venezuela and from our point of view, we are willing to collaborate so this problem can be solved”, he said in a statement Monday.
Both leaders also instructed their defense ministers to coordinate immediate actions for the normalization of the border area.
Venezuelans are still waiting for the issuance of new currency bills of 500, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 bolivars and, three new coins of 100, 50 and 10 bolivars.
The government said the new notes and coins would enter circulation Dec. 15 but the implementation has been delayed.
The country has been plagued by economic and political crises, including extremely high inflation, scarcity of staple goods, unemployment and political upheaval the government blames on interference by the U.S. and its regional allies. The opposition says the problems have been caused by government mismanagement and corruption.