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Venezuela to close Colombia border at night to fight smuggling

Venezuelan National Guard officers at the closed border between Venezuela and Colombia on December 6, 2013
Venezuelan National Guard officers at the closed border between Venezuela and Colombia on December 6, 2013

Venezuela will close its Colombia border at night starting Monday to combat smuggling of various Venezuelan products, including food and gasoline, officials said Saturday.

The border closure will take place from 10:00 pm (0230 GMT) to 5:00 am (0930 GMT) each night "to strengthen policies tackling smuggling from Venezuela to Colombia," said a press release from the state news agency AVN.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos agreed on the border closure during a meeting held August 1 in Cartagena focused on smuggling, officials said.

"We are sealing the entire border -- all 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) of it between Venezuela and Colombia," said the military commander in charge of the operation, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, from the border state of Zulia, one of the main contraband thoroughfares.

On Friday, Maduro appointed Padrino Lopez, head of the strategic command of the armed forces, and Vice President Jorge Arreaza to head a civilian-military unit to combat smuggling.

Venezuela, which has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, also sells gas for some of the cheapest prices -- allowing consumers to fill the tank of a car for the equivalent of a candy bar or bottle of water.

The low prices have long led to smuggling of fuel to Colombia.

In the past year, more food and commodities have crossed the border. Prices in Colombia can be up to 10 times higher than in Venezuela, which has price controls.

The Venezuelan government estimates that 40 percent of basic commodities are smuggled across the border with Colombia, plus 100,000 barrels of oil, equivalent to annual losses of $3.7 billion.

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