As Colombians Are Deported En Masse, Venezuelans Speak Out Against the Government

Temiendo ser deportados o agredidos durante la suspensión de garantias constitucionales, muchos inmigrantes indocumentados colombianos han empezado a cruzar el río Táchira para huir de Venezuela. Foto tomada de la cuenta en Instagram de Daniel Blanco y usada con autorización.

With the fear of being deported or harmed during the suspension of constitutional guarantees, several undocumented Colombian immigrants have begun to cross the Táchira river to flee from Venezuela. Photo from Daniel Blanco's Instagram account (@danielblancopz). Used with permission.

At least 1,000 people have been deported to Colombia since Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ordered a state of exception in six municipalities in the state of Táchira, which borders Colombia, according to Táchira Governor José Gregorio Vielma Mora.

The measure, which allows the government to override the rule of law, was declared on August 21, 2015, to “fight the militia, drug trafficking and smuggling on the border“. Two days earlier, three members of the Armed Forces were injured in a clash with a group of alleged smugglers.

In response to that outbreak of violence, Maduro expressed his outrage and desire to keep battling what he calls “the militia coming from Colombia”. He also called for “the cooperation of Colombian authorities in identifying and capturing the people who perpetrated the attack, in case they have already crossed the border”:

Quiero expresar mi repudio, mi dolor por este ataque, esta emboscada, que hubo contra dos jóvenes tenientes, contra unos soldados de nuestra patria en San Antonio del Táchira, he estado siguiendo detalle de los sucesos  y realmente es indignante, es doloroso. Todo el pueblo en este momento debe solidarse con nuestra Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana y con la juventud bolivariana militar que está en la frontera defendiendo el derecho a la paz.

I would like to express my rejection, my pain that this attack causes me, this ambush that was carried out against these two young lieutenants, against several soldiers from our homeland at San Antonio del Táchira. I've been closely following these incidents and it is outrageous and painful. The whole town should show solidarity with the Bolivarian Armed Forces and with the Bolivarian military youth who are at the border defending the right to peace.

The operation has as its focus a town named La Invasión, where hundreds of Colombians in Táchira live, considered by the Venezuelan authorities as a refuge for smugglers and paramilitary forces. In the wake of the deportations, many Colombians have decided to leave voluntarily.

The growing subsidies, mainly for food and gasoline, given out by the Venezuelan government have encouraged smuggling to the neighbouring country. Merchants and business people in the state of northern Santander, Colombia have also had a complained about the smuggling.

The numerous reports and stories that have come out since the systematic raids and deportations began have caused all kind of reactions. On Naky Soto blog's El Zaperoco de Naky (Naky's mess), the writer criticised Maduro and described the current situation at the Colombian border:

Nada de lo que dijo Nicolás justifica el desplazamiento arbitrario de mil colombianos, ni la demolición de sus casas, ni las vejaciones sufridas, ni el discurso xenofóbico que cree se arregla al decir que los ama. Nada justifica las imágenes de niños durmiendo en tiendas de campaña, mientras sus padres relatan todo lo que perdieron.

Nothing that Nicolás has said justifies the arbitrary displacement of a thousand Colombians or the demolition of their houses, or the harassment, or the xenophobic discourse that he thinks patches things up by saying he loves them. Nothing can justify the images of children sleeping in tents while their parents describe everything they have lost.

Journalist Omaira Labrador explained on her Twitter account what it is happening in Táchira:

Some of them were deported from La Invasión and others are leaving “because this is gonna go on for a while”. They are taking their belongings with them

Although the Venezuelan authorities have stated that they are respecting the rights of the deported, the true grueling nature of the process is on display in photos and videos shared on social media sites. Since the border between the two countries is closed, the Colombian immigrants who are returning to their country must do so by crossing the Táchira River, which is the natural border between Colombia and Venezuela.

The following video shows a group of Colombians singing their national anthem while crossing the river:

Amnesty International warned:

las personas deportadas habrían sido detenidas en operativos conjuntos de la Guardia Nacional y la Fuerza Armada y expulsadas a Colombia sin oportunidad de impugnar su expulsión o sin tener la posibilidad de recoger sus pertenencias. En algunos casos se han denunciado maltratos durante la detención, desalojos forzosos y demolición de casas donde vivían o se cree que vivían nacionales colombianos sin ningún tipo de respeto de garantías.

those deported would have been detained in joint operations of the National Guard and the Armed Force and expelled to Colombia without any chance of appealing their expulsion or any possibility of picking up their belongings. In some cases there have been reports of mistreatment during detention, forced evictions and demolition of houses where they used to live or without any kind of respect of their rights, it is simply believed that Colombian nationals once lived there.

D for demolish

As if the deportations weren't enough, homes in La Invasión were marked with an R for revisar (inspect) and a D for demolish.

Those deported are saying the National Guard asked them, “Are you Venezuelan or Colombian?” and their houses were marked and they were forced to vacate…serious!

Even former Colombian President César Gaviria commented on the matter:

Gaviria: It is a fascist act marking the Colombians’ houses on the border in order to demolish them

Support for the deportations is thin in San Antonio del Táchira and Rubio, a feeling that has spread throughout the country. On social media, people spoke out against authorities’ actions with hashtags such as #ParceVenezuelaTeQuiere (Venezuela loves you, friend) and #ChamoColombiaTeQuiere (Colombia loves you, dude).

Olga Isabel Ramos wrote on Twitter.

We are with our brothers of Colombia in Venezuela for such arbitrariness and mistreatment from this government #humanrights #border #abuseofpower

Let's let the world know that we are ashamed of NICOLÁS MADURO and we Venezuelans DO NOT APPROVE of this chaos! #ColombianVenezuelaborder

To hide this tragedy of his own making, Nicolás Maduro resorts to a perverse sentiment of nationalism and xenophobia against Colombians.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he ordered assistance for his fellow citizens at the border:

I gave instructions to the Minister of the Interior Juan Fernando Cristo to lead a commission to the border with Venezuela in order to aid those affected by the border's shutter.

Colombia's Ombudsman Office also sent aid to the border:

The Ombudsman Office commission traveled to the border with Venezuela to make visible the reports of those who have been forced to this exodus.

However, followers of Chavism, a brand of left-wing politics tied to Venezuela's late President Hugo Chávez, have shown their support for the measure:

#EveryonewithNicolás come on people, let's push this hashtag to support our president NICOLAS MADURO.

My brotherly greeting to Nicolás Maduro and all my true support to the Bolivarian revolution. Let's join forces to protect Bolivar's homeland.

Many have pointed out the irony of Venezuela's deportations of Colombians happening at a time that many Venezuelans are migrating overseas themselves in order to escape political and economic crisis, and Colombia is a favorite destination alongside the US, Spain, Italy and Portugal. Colombia's Minister of Foreign Affairs María Angela Holguín has said the country counts 250,000 Venezuelans, besides another 250,000 who are constantly on the move. According to data from Migration Colombia, there were 56,683 entries made by Venezuelans into the country and 58,581 departures in 1999. But in 2012 there was a record of 181,674 entries and 179,984 departures, indicating that hundreds of Venezuelans stayed

Despite the meetings held by both foreign offices, Maduro has stated that he doesn't see the border being reopened in the short-term, adding that it won't be reopened until “a minimum level of coexistence and respect for legality has been reestablished”.

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