Colombia

Crowds of Venezuelans lined up at two international bridges leading to Colombia on Saturday, as the border between the countries opened for the first time in four months.

Thousands of people crossed over, seeking food, medicine and basic supplies. For months, Venezuelans have been dealing with power outages, hyperinflation and increased violence due to the deepening political and economic crises in the country.

In the northeast corner of Colombia, a few miles from the Venezuelan border, rows of khaki-colored tents rise from the desert sand. Filled with Venezuelans escaping economic disaster back home, the tents make up Colombia's first refugee camp near the border.

The tunnel leading to Colombia's most famous church feels more like a byway into the bowels of the earth. It's dark and dank, with a faint smell of sulfur in the air. But after a few hundred yards, the shaft gradually widens to reveal Roman Catholic icons, like the Stations of the Cross and Archangel Gabriel.

And they're all carved out of salt.

Authorities at the Port of New York and New Jersey seized approximately 3,200 pounds of cocaine from a shipping container on Feb. 28.

Officials carried out an inspection of the shipment after they noticed tampering of several containers on a large vessel traveling from Buenaventura, Colombia, Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge Ray Donovan told NPR. That is when they discovered the nearly ton and a half of cocaine with an estimated street value of $77 million.

Teresa Frontado / WLRN News

Two weeks after violent clashes on the border between Venezuela and Colombia left more than 400 people wounded, the U.S. government and its Colombian counterpart made a public gesture Thursday to indicate ongoing support for efforts led by Venezuela's interim president Juan Guaidó to bring humanitarian aid into the troubled South American country. The timeline for the aid delivery is still not clear.

Fernando Llano / AP via Miami Herald

Top military commanders for the US and Colombia held a joint meeting in Miami on Wednesday to discuss regional cooperation. At the top of the agenda was the escalating humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, which is slated to ramp up this weekend.

In a hypnotic opening dance between two would-be lovers, the new film Birds of Passage immediately establishes that it is in no way a typical Colombian drug-war epic.

Fernando Llano / AP

Tensions continued mounting in Venezuela. The issue even came up at President Trump’s State of the Union speech.

“We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime,” he said on Tuesday.

 

AP via Miami Herald

This month a guerrilla car bomb killed 21 people at a police academy in Bogotá, Colombia. It evoked horror – and also confusion, because a lot of people assume Colombia recently ended its long civil war. Colombia did sign a peace deal with one guerrilla group, the FARC. But the other – the ELN, or National Liberation Army – is still active, and it's claimed responsibility for the January 17 bombing.

Associated Press

An SUV carrying more than 150 pounds of explosives detonated at a police academy in Colombia’s capital on Thursday, killing at least nine and leaving more than 50 people injured, according to authorities.

The explosion took place around 9:30 a.m. at the General Santander police academy in southern Bogotá.

“This was an attack on an academic institution where there were unarmed youth,” President Iván Duque said after touring the site. “This demented act of terrorism will not go unpunished.”

Ariana Cubillos / AP via Miami Herald

On Thursday Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will be sworn in after his unconstitutional re-election. Much of the world considers his socialist regime a dictatorship – and a disastrous one: Venezuela is suffering the worst economic collapse in the world right now.

But is it also a dangerous one? Lately the U.S. and much of Latin America are calling Venezuela an erratic security threat. It's escalating tensions with its neighbors – and last month welcomed Russian bomber planes into the country.

To understand what's going on with Venezuela, WLRN’s Tim Padgett spoke with Bruce Bagley, a University of Miami international studies professor and an expert on South American security issues.

This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

Joel Palacios says he used to have it all — a well-paying government job that let him travel across Colombia, the respect of everyone he encountered. "Everywhere I was 'el doctor Joel,' " he says — doctor being an honorific commonly used to denote respect in Latin America.

Manuel Rueda / WLRN News

ABOARD THE USNS COMFORT | A few years ago, Dr. Juan Manuel Zambrano was a family physician in Mucuchíes, Venezuela, in the country’s mountainous western Andes region. That is, until the day he realized Venezuela’s medicine and medical equipment shortages made it all but impossible for him to practice anymore.

Rather than swords into plowshares, Colombian artist Doris Salcedo is pounding guns into floor tiles.

To explain why he grows coca, the raw material for cocaine, rather than food crops on his 5-acre farm in southern Colombia, Luis Tapia does the math.

Every three months, Tapia, 60, harvests the bright green coca leaves with his bare hands, then mixes them with gasoline, sulfuric acid and other chemicals to make coca paste. He then sells the paste to drug traffickers who turn it into powder cocaine. A pound of paste, he says, sells for more than one ton of corn.

"That's why everyone grows coca," Tapia says.

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