Tue Dec 13, 2016 06:49AM
Venezuelan National Guard personnel stand guard behind a barrier on the Simon Bolivar bridge on the Colombian border with Venezuela, on December 12, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Venezuelan National Guard personnel stand guard behind a barrier on the Simon Bolivar bridge on the Colombian border with Venezuela, on December 12, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Venezuela’s president has ordered a three-day closure of the border with Colombia in a bid to fight “mafias” involved in currency smuggling amid soaring inflation in the South American state.

“I have taken the decision to close the border with Colombia for 72 hours,” Nicolas Maduro said in a televised address on Monday, calling it a “hard” but “unavoidable” measure.

Maduro further highlighted the economic crisis gripping Venezuela and said his country was the victim of a US-backed plot aimed at “destabilizing” the economy, battered by low oil prices.

He added that a group “contracted by the US Department of Treasury” was behind the plot.

Maduro further said the border closure would be “the first of a series of decisions that we’re going to be taking to defend our bolivar (Venezuela’s national currency), our economy and our people.”

The development came a day after Maduro issued an emergency decree, ordering the withdrawal of the country’s largest bank note, the 100-bolivar bill, from circulation at markets.

The withdrawal was meant to thwart what the president called a US-sponsored plot against Venezuela.

The Venezuelan leader also said on Monday that officials in Caracas had confiscated 64 million bolivars coming across the border on dirt trails that proliferate along the Colombian border.

A Venezuelan probe had found that billions of the 100-bolivar notes were stashed away by international mafias, mainly in Colombian cities but also in Brazil, Maduro added.

A woman opens a drawer full of 100-Bolivar-bills at a shop in San Cristobal, Venezuela on December 12, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The government set a 10-day deadline for Venezuelans to exchange the notes at the central bank.

Maduro told government ministers on Monday that the closure was being coordinated with Colombian government.

“Defense Minister Padrino Lopez has already coordinated with the Defense Minister of Colombia (Luis Carlos) Villegas regarding joint military action between the Colombian army and the Bolivarian national armed forces so as to go after this mafia on the Colombian and Venezuelan sides so that these notes are burnt because this will cause great damage to the Venezuelan economy,” he said.

Since 2014, Venezuela has been grappling with protests against Maduro who is under fire by his critics for his handling of the economy.

The opposition blames Maduro’s Socialist government for the triple-digit inflation as well as shortages of food, medicine and basic goods that have triggered violence and looting.

The president, however, blames the problems on an “economic war” waged by the opposition with a helping hand from Washington aimed at bringing about a coup d’état in the oil-rich country.