Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro (FILE)
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CARACAS – Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has ordered a temporary shutdown of air and maritime traffic with three Caribbean neighbours, accusing smugglers there of seeking to plunder his South American country.
In a televised address on Friday, Maduro said he had halted all flights and ship traffic to the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, known as the ABC islands, for 72 hours.
He accused the three countries of running black markets by siphoning everything from copper to food before selling the items.
“They take away gold from this country illegally, and make it legal to sell there; they take away coltan, they take away diamonds, they take away all food products,” Maduro said. “I didn’t want to take a measure like this one, but I am ready to take even more radical measures.”
The islands, which are short distances from Venezuela’s northern coast, have long hosted black markets for Venezuelan contraband, trading everything from illegally-mined minerals to narcotics, however, in recent times, the islands have become better known as the landing site of boats of Venezuelans fleeing the country.
According to reports, many refugees have fled illegally, so the closure is unlikely to stop those departures but it will prevent Venezuelans wishing to travel by air at a time when many airlines refuse to fly to the country because of safety concerns.
Aruba is the site of a large refinery that Citgo, the American subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company, has been touting plans to refurbish.
“I hope that during these 72 hours the leaders of these countries will take the measures we’ve asked for more than two years” against smugglers, Maduro said. “Mafias are waging war on our electricity, they steal our copper and they sell it legally.”
Maduro has closed borders in the past after alleging that smugglers were robbing the country, especially at times when his government faces problems.
In late 2016, Maduro shut down the border with Colombia, alleging that mobsters there were hoarding currency, the paper said, adding that, the previous year, he had ordered a longer and declared a state of emergency along the same border, saying that food, fuel and other goods were being smuggled there.
The measures had little effect on smuggling in the area, residents said, but did prevent many thousands of Venezuelans from crossing the border to buy food during shortages.
Presently, Venezuela is also struggling with hyperinflation and the Maduro administration ordered more than 200 supermarkets to cut prices back to last month’s levels. (CMC)