A state of emergency has been declared along parts of Venezuela's border with Colombia after clashes between smugglers and soldiers left four people injured. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has imposed martial law in border areas and has closed the border indefinitely.
"The constitution and the law give me the power to declare this state of exception for 60 days, extendable for 60 days," Maduro said in a televised address on Friday, 21 August.
Maduro said that there would be 60 days of martial law in five municipalities in the north-western state of Tachira, the Associated Press reported. In addition, 1,500 soldiers would also be sent to the region to prevent petrol and food smugglers from crossing.
Venezuela's price controls and subsidies on gasoline and food has led to rampant smuggling. People are taking advantage of Venezuela's low prices to sell goods at higher prices across the border, according to AP.
Clashes between smugglers and Venezuelan troops have escalated culminating in the shooting of three army officers— two lieutenants and a captain — while patrolling for smugglers last week. A civilian was also injured, but it was unclear if he was a smuggler.
The 1,400-mile border between the two countries has been plagued by violence stemming from Colombia's long-running conflict, the presence of drug-trafficking gangs and now by the smugglers. Venezuela closed its border with Colombia for the first time last year, in a similar attempt to stop smugglers.
"We've been discovering a frightful reality about how the criminals and paramilitaries operate. I'm under the obligation to free Venezuela of all this," Maduro said during his televised address.
As part of a state crackdown against smugglers and traffickers, the government has already closed the border in Tachira at night, deployed thousands of soldiers and toughened jail sentences for smuggling. It also rolled out a fingerprint-scanning system to restrict the amount of any single product shoppers can buy.
The Venezuelan government says more than 6,000 people have been arrested for smuggling in the past year. It also claims more than 28,000 tons of food was seized last year in anti-smuggling operations.