Colombia elections: Border town frets about Hugo Chávez trade threats
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez threatened to shut down trade if Colombian presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos wins the May 30 Colombia elections.
On the face of it, it is just another backwater dusty town in Colombia´s north eastern frontier with Venezuela. But beyond the potholed main street, dotted with cactus plants and rubbish, lies a thriving market town.
Arab traders sell electronic goods such as TVs and refrigerators shipped in from Panama. Colombian merchants trade in clothes as well as jewelery with gold and precious stones. Native Way'ùu indians sit in doorways knitting traditional dresses for artesan shops.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez last month threatened to cut trade with Colombia if presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos wins Sunday's May 30 elections. If elected, Mr. Santos, Colombia´s former defense minister under President Alvaro Uribe, had talked about chasing FARC over the border into Venezuela .
In Maicao, which lies just a 10-minute drive from Colombian´s eastern frontier with Venezuela, residents worry about damage to business from the potential spat. The town depends on trade with its neighbor. A steady stream of Venezuelans flow over the border to buy clothes, food staples, and luxury goods such as TVs.
"It´s very worrying," said one jewelery shop owner who declined to be named."This is a frontier town which depends on the trade from Venezuela." He does a good trade selling gold to Venezuelans, he says, an income he fears will be lost if President Chávez restricts border crossings.
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Luis Ramirez imports electronic goods sold to traders here and in Venezuela. He doesn´t believe Chavez´s threat to close the border between Colombia and Venezuela, an import dependent nation that relies heavily on food and other goods from Colombia. "They´d die from hunger," he laughs.
Chávez briefly closed the border with Colombia in 2009, and sent Venezuelan troops to the border in 2008 after Colombia raided a FARC rebel camp in Ecuador, an incursion he feared would be repeated in Venezuela.
Presidential candidate Santos is running neck and neck in the polls with rival Antanas Mockus, the Green Party candidate, a moderate leftist whom critics have likened to Chávez. One man here says he fears Colombia will fall under the spell of Chávez´s Socialist ideology if Mr. Mockus wins.
"He´s a leftist as well and he´ll enter into dialogue with Chávez," says Nelson Diaz, "he has the same politics and idealism of Chávez and he´ll let it enter here." The mathemician has dismissed any the likeness to Chávez.