Thousands of Venezuelans break barricades, cross Colombia border

People cross the Colombian-Venezuelan border over the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, April 2, 2019

Thousands of Venezuelans broke through barricades along the international border with Colombia on Tuesday, according to the migration office in Bogota, which warned Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro that he would be held responsible for any problems that may occur.
Maduro in February blocked bridges joining the two nations in a bid to prevent a US-backed effort to distribute hundreds of tonnes of humanitarian aid to the crisis-wracked nation.
With bridges blocked by containers and trucks, Venezuelans have been wading through the Tachira River to reach the city of Cucuta, on Colombia’s northern border, to find food, medicines and work. But torrential rains in recent days have made that impossible.
“The usurper Maduro is responsible for anything that may happen to the population that is transiting between the two countries,” said Christian Kruger, head of Colombia’s migration agency, highlighting the risk of the Simon Bolivar Bridge being weakened.
Millions of Venezuelans have fled to Colombia to escape widespread shortages of food and medicine in their homeland, seeking jobs locally and passage into other Latin American countries.
Venezuela plunged into a deep political crisis in January, when Juan Guaidó, head of the Opposition-controlled Congress, invoked the Constitution to declare himself interim President, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was not legitimate.
US President Donald Trump has taken steps to ratchet up pressure on Maduro and bolster Guaidó, who has been recognised as President by the United States and more than 50 other countries, including Colombia.
Colombia’s Government says providing Venezuelan migrants with access to basic services and expanding healthcare, education and public utilities costs it a half percentage point of annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Colombia’s GDP in 2018 was some US$312 billion (Reuters)

Venezuela’s Guaidó stripped of immunity, can face prosecution
Venezuelan lawmakers loyal to President Maduro stripped Opposition Leader Guaidó’s immunity Tuesday – and authorised the high court to criminally prosecute him for proclaiming himself the crisis-hit country’s ruler.
Guaidó – who is recognised by over 50 countries – had earlier expressed fears of being abducted by Government agents following a request by the Supreme Court on Monday to the Constituent Assembly to lift his parliamentary immunity.
Critics of the controversial two-year-old body say it was created to rubber-stamp Maduro’s decisions and sideline the Opposition-controlled National Assembly.
“They can try to kidnap me,” said Guaidó.
The Constituent Assembly’s President, Diosdado Cabello, announced pro-Maduro lawmakers had unanimously authorised the Supreme Court to prosecute Guaidó, leaving him also liable to be charged for breaching a January 29 Government ban on leaving the country.
The court had been investigating Guaidó for usurping Maduro’s powers by declaring himself interim President on January 23 – a move which rapidly gained international support.
“You know how the regime acts. This is not even persecution – this is inquisition,” said Guaidó, who recognises neither the court nor the Constituent Assembly.
Neither institution “has the quality of being able to lift immunity or invalidate, we have to say things as they are,” he said.

Travel ban
Guaidó was speaking to reporters prior to a meeting of his own National Assembly, which sits in the same federal palace building as the rival Constituent Assembly.
Monday’s court ruling cited Guaidó’s violation of a ban on his travel outside Venezuela when he visited Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Paraguay from late February to early March.
The move came after Venezuela’s Auditor General’s office announced Thursday that it had stripped Guaidó of the right to hold public office for 15 years, a decision he rejected as invalid.
Parallel to the political battle, the country has been hit by a series of devastating blackouts that have left millions without water, prompting the Government to replace the country’s Energy Minister and institute power rationing in a bid to address the outages.
Three major blackouts hit Venezuela in March, worsening already dire living and economic conditions in the country, and prompting authorities to take steps aimed at curbing the outages
Maduro – whose government has blamed “terrorists” for alleged attacks that have damaged the country’s main hydroelectric power plant – announced that he was appointing Igor Gavidia Leon to replace retired general Luis Motta Dominguez as Energy Minister.
The new Minister “is an electrical industry worker with 25 years of experience, an engineer who had many responsibilities”, Maduro said.
On Sunday, Maduro announced 30 days of electricity rationing, after his government said it was shortening the workday and keeping schools closed due to blackouts.
The measures are a stark admission by the Government that there is not enough electricity to go around, and that the power crisis is here to stay.
With no electricity, pumping stations can’t work, so water service is limited.
Schools and universities are scheduled to reopen today. (AFP)