Tue Dec 20, 2016 6:32PM
People queue to cross the Francisco de Paula Santander international bridge, linking Urena, in Venezuela, and Cucuta, in Colombia, despite a border closing order issued by the Venezuelan government, December 18, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
People queue to cross the Francisco de Paula Santander international bridge, linking Urena, in Venezuela, and Cucuta, in Colombia, despite a border closing order issued by the Venezuelan government, December 18, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Venezuela has started to reopen its border with Colombia, days ahead of schedule as people on both sides of the frontier continued to defy the closure.

Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said on Tuesday that the border posts along the 2,200-kilometer frontier with Colombia would gradually reopen "with strict vigilance and security."

Villegas said the reopening was decided after President Nicolas Maduro had a phone conversation with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos earlier in the day. Reports said normal crossing was possible from the morning.

The decision was a surprise to many as Maduro had said crossings along the border between the South American neighbors would remain closed until January 2.

However, a rise in illegal crossings and increasing appeals by Colombians living in Venezuela to return for Christmas holidays played a role in the reopening.

The closure, combined with the elimination of Venezuela's largest currency note, had prevented gangs on both sides from rampant smuggling of goods and cash, something that the Maduro administration was desperately seeking amid economic problems at home.

Many Venezuelans have become increasingly dependent on trips to Colombia to buy food and medicines that are scarce at home.

Venezuela is grappling with a serious economic crisis which many blame on the global slump in oil prices as well as Maduro’s failed socialist policies. The 54-year-old former bus driver and foreign minister, who replaced Hugo Chavez in 2013, recently ordered a series of currency measures, which he later postponed in the wake of protests.

Three people were killed and more than 400 people were arrested in the protests, which erupted over cash shortages across Venezuela in the weekend.