Colombia expels 59 Venezuelans who took part in protests

Bogota (AFP) –


Colombia said Monday it is expelling 59 Venezuelans for taking part in street protests, as conservative President Ivan Duque gathered with business and labor leaders in a bid to quell violent anti-government protests.

Demonstrators planned another big march on Monday despite Duque's launch of a national dialogue on Sunday to address corruption, economic inequality and other woes.

The Venezuelans have been classified as a threat to public order and national security, the government’s migration agency said.

Since last Thursday Colombia has been hit by unprecedented mass protests against the unpopular Duque, thus joining a wave of grassroots anger that, for different reasons, has swept through Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia.

Colombians want Duque to fight harder against corruption, improve public education and provide for more equitable economic growth.

They are also concerned about management of a 2016 peace deal with leftist FARC rebels, which is unpopular with many Colombians.

- Fleeing Venezuela -

Duque's administration also has to deal with hosting 1.4 million refugees fleeing neighboring Venezuela's economic meltdown,

Christian Kruger, the director of Colombia Migration, said the country had welcomed the 59 Venezuelans now due for expulsion as it did so many people from their beleaguered country.

"But we will not tolerate a group of misfits coming to threaten the safety of our streets," Kruger said in a statement.

He said the actions of these Venezuelans triggers "outbreaks of xenophobia" that hurts the reputation of good hardworking Venezuelans.

Kruger told reporters later that they would be handed over to Venezuelan authorities at a remote border crossing in southwestern Colombia, San Fernando de Atabapo, in order to "make it difficult for them" to return.

"While it's true that foreigners can march, what they cannot do is affect public order and generate vandalism by putting public and private goods at risk as well as the integrity of the people who are in those marches," he said.

Police had earlier reported that during a night of curfew on Friday 29 Venezuelans were arrested in Bogota and Cali for violating that order.

Colombian immigration authorities said they had blocked entry to the country of a Chilean and a Venezuelan who, according to "intelligence information" had posed a threat to the "tranquility and security" of the country.

Duque took part Sunday in the launch of a national dialogue with mayors and other government officials to address the grievances of the protesters, who were not represented in that initial session.

The 43-year-old president had warned on the eve of a general strike and massive protest last Thursday, that Colombia was at risk of the same social convulsions which had shaken Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile in recent weeks.

People marched again Sunday and another big procession has been called for Monday by a major trade union.