Venezuela closes border with Colombia

Caracas, Dec 13 (IANS) Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has ordered the closure of Venezuelan border with Colombia for 72 hours till Thursday to deal with the “mafias” operating and smuggling out Venezuelan currency.

The measure came on the heels of his decision to withdraw the 100-bolivar bill from circulation, Efe news reported on Tuesday.

“We’re intercepting about $95,000 that was crossing over, so I decided to close the frontier with Colombia…,” Maduro said in a radio and television announcement from Miraflores presidential palace.

Maduro had recently said that criminal groups operating from Colombian border cities were taking huge numbers of 100-bolivar bills out for the past two years to “destabilize” the Venezuelan economy as part of a “financial war”.

On Monday, he said that his government had spoken with Bogota about the matter, adding that he hoped to speak very soon with his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, to move to correct “this distortion”.

The Colombian central bank sets that country’s exchange rate nationwide, except along the border with Venezuela, Maduro said.

He added that his decision to remove the 100-bolivar bill from circulation was “inevitable, necessary and radical”.

He added that it was an attack by Colombian criminal groups and Venezuela’s MUD opposition coalition “combined with international mafias via an NGO hired by the US Treasury”.

Meanwhile, Interior, Justice and Peace Minister Nestor Reverol said that the US government and several non-governmental organisations operating in Venezuela were behind the ‘financial’ attack executed by withdrawing currency from the money supply.

“These operations were also staged in Iraq and Libya, to create a crisis to seek the overthrow of the government,” Reverol said.

An investigation was underway of the suspected removal of large amounts of cash, with the sum possibly reaching about $447 million, the minister said.

The NGOs, according to the official, hire criminal organisations to move 100-bolivar bills, the largest bill in circulation now, to Colombia.

From there it is send to Switzerland, Poland, Ukraine, Spain, Germany and the Czech Republic, where the money is stored in large warehouses.

On Sunday, Maduro ordered the central bank to withdraw all 100-bolivar bills from circulation to stop Colombian organised crime groups supposedly stockpiling currency to destabilise the economy.

The President said during his weekly show, “En contacto con Maduro” (In Contact with Maduro), that some nationally chartered banks were involved in the effort to destabilise the economy.

Last week, the Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV) said it would introduce new bills in larger denominations to address a sharp currency devaluation.

Venezuela’s new currency will go into circulation on December 15, in denominations of 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500 bolivares, with 100-, 50- and 10-bolivar coins, the BCV said.