Venezuela Food Crisis: More Than 123,000 People Cross Into Colombia For Food And Medicine

The Venezuela food crisis is continuing to grow, and this weekend, the government once again opened the border into Colombia. According to Canadian Business, more than 123,000 people took advantage and stocked up on food and medicine.

Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, closed the border to Colombia last year in an effort to crack down on smuggling and crime in border towns. Maduro blamed the Venezuelan food crisis on illegal Colombian immigrants and said they were also responsible for the collapse of the country’s currency.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in addition to closing the borders last year, Maduro also extended a “stay of exception,” which allowed soldiers to raid people’s homes without warrants in an effort to crack down on crime. At the time, Maduro also stated that the country would welcome up to 20,000 Syrian refugees, despite the fact that his country is facing a catastrophic shortage of food.

Of the 123,000 people who crossed into Colombia, approximately 35,000 went over on Saturday and more than 88,000 made the trip on Sunday. State television ran interviews with people who were coming back across the border empty-handed because of price gouging. Colombia put a mobile pharmacy on the bridge so that Venezuelans could buy desperately needed medicine.

Quartz reports that because of the food crisis in Venezuela, more than 10 percent of the population has had to cut at least one meal a day, and teachers are reporting that students are unable to concentrate at school due to hunger. Some kids are missing school because their parents need them to stand in the long lines at supermarkets or are even fainting due to lack of food.

Experts in the country are going so far as to say that the Venezuela food crisis is going to set the country back years or even decades. In some states in the country, schools are staying open in the summer so that the poorest kids can receive their free lunches. A survey that was conducted in June showed that for more than a quarter of students, the state-sponsored snack was the only thing they had to eat the entire day and 86 percent of students said they would like to stay in school in the summer so that they can eat.

The socialist government in Venezuela ordered companies to make sure between 30 and 100 percent of their food staples such as milk, pasta, oil, and rice were given to state-run grocery stores, according to CBS News. Given that there are more than 15 times as many private grocery stores as there are state-run, Chamber President Pablo Baraybar warned the government that this could cause a severe food shortage. The warning fell on deaf ears.

Venezuela Food Crisis Protests
Venezuela Protests [Photo by Fernando Llano/AP Images]

In addition to the food crisis in Venezuela, triple-digit inflation, electricity, and water rationing, as well as a shortage of basic necessities, are causing widespread protests and outbursts. The Guardian reports that one store was expecting a delivery of chicken, prompting people to line up for hours in the hopes of getting some of the scarce meat. When the truck arrived, the national guardsmen told them to drive on, and chaos ensued. Hungry people tried to loot stores, and protestors shouted “we want food” while they clashed with police.

With the lower price of oil and Maduro refusing to take any action, despite the opposition party winning control of the parliament in the last election, the Venezuela food crisis is only going to get worse. It is not known if the border to Colombia will open again, but this weekend, tens of thousands of people travelled for hours just for the possibility of food and medicine. Zenovia Villegas, a 54-year-old Venezuelan housewife, summed up the state of the country, saying that “we are like a bomb going tick-tock, tick-tock”.

[Photo by Ariana Cubillos/AP Images]