Aruba is the site of a large refinery that Citgo, the American subsidiary of Venezuela’s state oil company, has been touting plans to refurbish. The state oil company is reeling from disastrous production declines and is falling behind on debt payments.
It was unclear what prompted the timing of Mr. Maduro’s crackdown.
“I hope that during these 72 hours the leaders of these countries will take the measures we’ve asked for more than two years” against smugglers, Mr. Maduro said. “Mafias are waging war on our electricity, they steal our copper and they sell it legally.”
Mr. Maduro has closed borders in the past after alleging that smugglers were robbing the country, especially at times when his government faces problems.
In late 2016, he shut down the border with Colombia, alleging that mobsters there were hoarding currency. The previous year he had ordered a longer closure and declared a state of emergency along the same border, saying that food, fuel and other goods were being smuggled there.
The measures had little effect on smuggling in the area, residents said, but did prevent many thousands of Venezuelans from crossing the border to buy food during shortages.
Venezuela is also struggling with hyperinflation, and the Maduro administration ordered more than 200 supermarkets to cut prices back to last month’s levels, Reuters reported on Saturday.
News of the discounts spread quickly, leading hundreds to mass in front of stores before daybreak. When one major supermarket in wealthier eastern Caracas did not open for hours, people began pounding on the storefront.
Armed National Guard soldiers later arrived at the store and ordered people into clear lines. They eventually let the crowd through in small groups just before midday, but people quickly emerged disappointed as only crackers and washing liquid were discounted, according to Reuters.
“I can’t feed my kids with this,” Jesus Gudino, 29, a moto-taxi driver and father of three told Reuters, indicating the small plastic bag in his hand. “I’ve been here since 4 a.m. This is a mockery. What can I do? I have to leave this country.”
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