Venezuela May Reopen Border With Colombia Amid Financial and Medical Crisis

An estimated 50 to 70 million American adults may suffer from sleep or wakefulness disorders, but countless people in Venezuela and Colombia are losing sleep as they worry about relations between their countries, their economic futures, and the Zika virus.

Venezuela is considering reopening its border with Columbia in an attempt to mend the strained relationship between the two countries, after unilaterally closing the border 6 months ago.

The governor of the Venezuelan border state of Tachira, Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora, claims they are “one step away” from the reopening after talking with President Nicholas Maduro.

The border was closed in August last year, when Venezuela claimed that Colombian right-wing paramilitary groups were trying to infiltrate Venezuelan soil in order to topple its socialist regime.

President Maduro also claimed that Venezuela was under attack from Colombian wholesalers, who bought cheap, illegally exported Venezuelan wholesalers, while Venezuelans themselves went without.

Another inflammatory issue between the two countries is that of the Zika virus.

In Colombia, more than 37,000 people have fallen sick with Zika, while Venezuela reports less than 5,000. Colombian officials find that number suspiciously low.

“A lot of people who are sick with Zika in Venezuela are coming to Colombia for medical attention,” says Juan Bitar, the head of the health department in a Colombian state that shares a border with Venezuela.

Venezuela’s current economic crisis may be fueling both the medical migration and the discussions of reopening the border.

Even though the border is officially closed, many people commute back and forth across the border every day to commute to work or school.

For many, like Johanna Villamizar, it’s as if the border doesn’t exist. “I wake up, cross the border to get to work, then at the end of the day I cross back to come home,” Villamizar said.

Bitar says that the biggest challenge is Venezuela’s denial of the scale of the Zika virus. The mosquitoes that spread the virus don’t travel very far, so the epidemic is spread by the movement of sick people.

The sudden closure of the border and tense diplomatic relations have not made it easy to proceed with negotiations about reopening the border or dealing with the medical emergency of Zika.