Five hundred hungry Venezuelan women have stormed across a bridge into Colombia, defying a year-long border crossing in search of basic foodstuff and goods which are hard to find back home.
Dressed in white T-shirts, the women from the Venezuelan town of Ureña marched up to the barriers manned by members of the National Guard. The guardsmen formed a cordon to prevent the women from passing but they eventually broke through, cheering as they ran across the bridge into the Colombian city of Cúcuta.
“The women of Ureña decided to come to the international bridge to cross the border because we don’t have food in our homes, our children are going hungry, there is a lot of need,” one woman told the Cúcuta daily La Opinion.
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The women poured into the markets and shops of the Colombian city, snatching up toilet paper, flour, cooking oil, corn flour and other goods hard to find back home.
Because of the exchange rate between the Venezuelan bolivar and Colombian peso, and the lack of subsidies in Colombia, the women who forced their way across the border on Tuesday may have paid 10 times the price for the goods they bought compared to the official prices at home.
But their complaint was that the goods cannot be found in Venezuela.
Venezuela is rich in oil, but dogged by chronic shortages of basic goods and essential medicines, which critics of President Nicolás Maduro blame on gross mismanagement of the economy. Government supporters say empty store shelves are caused by an “economic war” against his socialist government.
Maduro closed the 1,400-mile border in August 2015, and ordered a crackdown on suspected smugglers in the region who sold heavily subsidised Venezuelan goods in Colombia at a significant markup.
Maduro then declared a state of emergency in the border regions, and had more than 1,300 Colombians who had been living illegally in Venezuela deported. An estimated 19,000 other Colombians left in fear of deportation, causing a brief immigration crisis in Colombia and raising tensions between the neighbouring countries.
The defence ministers of both countries met last week to begin talks about border security with the hope of reopening the official crossings between the two countries.
At the end of their shopping spree the women laden with plastic bags full of goods, filed back into Venezuela, chanting their national anthem.
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