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CUCUTA, Colombia (AP) – Thousands of people crossed into Colombia on Saturday to buy food and medicine after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro reopened a border between the countries that had been shut down for the past four months.
Long lines of Venezuelans stood at two international bridges near the city of Cucuta waiting to have their documents checked by Colombian officials, with some carrying children on their shoulders. Venezuelan border guards dressed in green uniforms helped control the crowd.
The South American nation’s socialist government ordered the borders with Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Brazil and Colombia closed in February as the opposition tried to deliver food and medical supplies into the country.
Most of the aid was provided by the United States, a key ally of opposition leader Juan Guaido who declared himself to be Venezuela’s rightful president in January. But Mr. Maduro dismissed the aid as an infringement on Venezuela’s sovereignty and prohibited it from entering.
In May, the government reopened borders with Aruba and Brazil, but the Simon Bolivar International Bridge and the Francisco de Paula Santander International Bridge with Colombia have remained closed up until now.
With the reopening, a flood of people seized on the opportunity to enter into the neighboring country and secure items that are all but unattainable in Venezuela.
The once-wealthy oil nation is now facing severe shortages of basic goods and hyperinflation that is expected to surpass 10 million percent this year, according to a recent IMF estimate. The chaos has been further aggravated by U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports and has forced an estimated 5,000 people to leave the country each day, according to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees.
The UN refugee agency said Friday that 4 million Venezuelans, or almost 15 percent of the population, have left the country.