CARACAS, Venezuela – President Nicolas Maduro has closed the last remaining bridge connecting Venezuela with Colombia as he extends a monthlong crackdown on smuggling along the border that is fueling tensions between the two neighbors.
Maduro said late Tuesday that a state of emergency had been broadened to encompass 10 more municipalities on Venezuela*s western edge, including a few in the state of Apure, the third state to face such restrictions.
While Maduro didn't specifically say he was closing any border crossings, authorities in Colombia said Wednesday that Venezuelan security forces had set up a barricade preventing cars from crossing the Jose Antonio Paez bridge that connects the provincial capital of Arauca with the plains of Apure.
It was the fifth bridge closed by Venezuela in recent weeks, though dozens of trails and two fluvial crossings still connect the two countries along a border that is about five times longer than the one dividing France and Germany.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reacted angrily Wednesday to Maduro's latest move.
"I'll repeat it again: Expanding border closures isn't the way to bring about a solution to the problems affecting our border," Santos said.
Colombia's government has protested the treatment of some 1,500 of its nationals deported under the crackdown. An additional 16,000 of the more than 5 million Colombians living in Venezuela have returned voluntarily, saying they fear reprisals.
While Maduro and Santos have both called for direct dialogue to reduce tensions, an attempt by South American neighbors to mediate a solution has so far failed to bring the two leaders together.