BOGOTA – Colombia’s president on Wednesday accused his Venezuelan counterpart of further militarizing the civilian population and said he had asked his foreign minister to convey those concerns to the United Nations.
“I asked the foreign minister to urge the UN secretary-general to pay attention to the worrying militarization of Venezuelan society,” Juan Manuel Santos wrote on Twitter.
Maria Angela Holguin traveled Tuesday to New York and is scheduled to meet Wednesday with top UN officials, including Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, to review the progress made by a UN mission to Colombia tasked with monitoring and verifying the peace accord and cessation of hostilities between leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and government forces.
Colombia and Venezuela share a 2,219-kilometer (1,380-mile) land border, making the political and socio-economic crisis in the neighboring country – which is politically polarized and racked by sky-high inflation and food and medicine shortages – a matter of particular concern for authorities in Bogota.
Santos’ administration has been closely following recent developments in Venezuela, where competing street demonstrations by opponents and supporters of President Nicolas Maduro have been called for Wednesday.
Santos on Tuesday expressed serious concern over Maduro’s announcement the day before of a plan to expand the number of civilian members of armed militias by 500,000.
Earlier this week, 11 Latin American governments issued a joint statement lamenting the deaths of six people in recent protests in Venezuela and calling for Maduro’s administration to guarantee people’s right to peacefully demonstrate and urgently set dates for elections to help resolve the crisis.
Venezuela’s government slammed that communique as interference in its internal affairs and accused those nations of violating international law due to their alleged support for outside intervention and violent vandalism by government opponents.
“Venezuela rejects the rude interference of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said Monday.
This month, Venezuela’s opposition has been protesting, among other things, a Supreme Court ruling handed down in late March that stripped the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its remaining authority, although that decision was later partially annulled.
In its initial ruling, the high court said the unicameral National Assembly’s move early last year to ignore an earlier decision by the tribunal and seat three lawmakers accused of electoral fraud – and thereby give the opposition a supermajority – put it in contempt of court.
Prior to that ruling, the Supreme Court had already taken away the legislature’s budgetary authority in the wake of the opposition’s landslide victory in the December 2015 parliamentary elections.
Those elections marked a major turning point in Venezuelan politics, which has been dominated for nearly 20 years by the leftist party of
Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.