Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro rejected on Sunday any unilateral attempt by the Colombian government to reopen its shared border due to the risk involved in doing so without close coordination between the two governments to avoid a spike in COVID-19 infections.

In Bogotá “they are talking about opening the border unilaterally”, in that sense “I tell them, nothing unilateral is going to work,” said Maduro.

Maduro expressed that his concern is centered on the high number of infections in the neighboring country and the presence in Colombia of some of the new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The president cited reports that would indicate that new variants “are running very hard in Colombia,” including the border department of Norte de Santander, where “these very dangerous variants have been found.”

The Colombian Ministry of Health estimates that 70% of the country’s large cities go through an epidemic peak as a result of a combination of factors, such as the economic reactivation, social gatherings and the circulation in the country of the Brazilian and British variant of COVID-19, the latter first reported on April 16.

“If the stubborn, reactionary government of Colombia does not coordinate with the Bolivarian and legitimate government of Venezuela, nothing on the border will work,” the president insisted in a televised government act

Venezuela and Colombia, which share 2,200 kilometers of border, have not had diplomatic relations since February 2019 by decision of the Venezuelan president, who ordered the expulsion of the Colombian diplomats. The Duque government does not recognize Maduro’s legitimacy, arguing that he was elected in a fraudulent election.

“For the good it is possible, with controls, to open the border,” while “for the bad with us nothing,” said the Venezuelan president.

“If it is agreed, consensual and it is favorable for the people of the border to open the border, let’s do it,” agreeing on biosafety measures, he added.

Colombian authorities have said that they are studying different models for opening the border with Venezuela, based on strict sanitary protocols. They do not even rule out that if the opening takes place in June, it will “be done gradually,” said the general director of Migration Colombia, Juan Francisco Espinosa, in statements to Colombian radio station RCN Radio on Friday.

On May 19, Colombia reopened the land and river border crossings with Brazil, Ecuador, Panama and Peru, which remained closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Colombia counts more than 3.2 million cases of COVID-19 and 84,724 deaths. On Sunday there were 21,669 new infections and 496 deaths.

Venezuela, in contrast, adds some 222,052 cases since the first two were detected on March 13, 2020 and 2,499 deaths, according to figures published on Saturday.

Maduro also questioned the motivation for the opening of the border, stating that in the administration of President Iván Duque “they want to use the opening of the border to disturb” Venezuela and supposedly try to “divert national and international attention from the enormous and tragic crisis that Colombia is experiencing ”due to the massive protests that plague that country.

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