Venezuela to Shut Colombia Border at Night Amid Smuggling

Venezuela will close its border with Colombia at nights to fight smuggling driven by the price differences for food and fuel in the two countries.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, agreed to shut the 2,200-kilometer (1,400-mile) border from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting tomorrow, Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora, governor of Venezuela’s Tachira state, said yesterday on state radio.

Decades of price controls in Venezuela have made gasoline in Latin America’s largest oil exporter much cheaper than in Colombia. Gas in Venezuela costs about 6 U.S. cents a gallon, calculated at the official exchange rate, compared with $4.60 a gallon in Colombia. Basic food products such as rice and cooking oil cost about 10 percent as much as in Colombia.

The gap has created a sophisticated contraband industry, with 10 percent to 15 percent of all car fuel and as much as 20 percent of the rice consumed in Colombia smuggled into the country, according to the Colombian government.

Criminal gangs are shipping the equivalent of 60 to 100 tanker trucks of subsidized Venezuelan fuel per day into Colombia, much of it paid for with cocaine, according to the head of the nation’s customs agency DIAN.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan shelves go bare. In cities close to the border, such as Maracaibo and San Cristobal, people sleep outside supermarkets to buy out deliveries of subsidized products when they arrive and take them to Colombia. The 50- to 100-kilometer drive from both cities to the border takes about four hours on a road choked with 1970s trucks and sedans loaded with food and fuel.

In the sparsely populated savanna further south, Venezuelan ranchers drive the same herds of cattle back and forth across the border to exploit currency-exchange differences, said Orlando Zambrano, a congressman from Venezuela’s Apure state. The ranchers buy the animals in bolivars at Venezuela’s official exchange rate and sell them in Colombia at a black-market rate 12 times as high.

Venezuela will hold a national debate on raising the price of gasoline for the first time in 15 years, Maduro said Aug. 8.

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