Brazil was to send troops to its border with Venezuela today after residents of the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima drove out Venezuelan immigrants from their improvised camps, amid growing regional tensions.
Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have crossed the border into Brazil over the past three years as they seek to escape the economic, political and social crisis gripping their country.
The latest show of tensions began early on Saturday, hours after a local merchant was robbed and severely beaten in an incident blamed on Venezuelan suspects in Pacaraima, where an estimated 1,000 immigrants are living on the streets.
Dozens of locals attacked the two makeshift immigrant camps and burned the immigrants’ belongings, leading Venezuelans to cross the border back into their home country. Shots were fired, stores were shuttered and debris littered the streets.
“It was terrible, they burned the tents and everything that was inside,” said Carol Marcano, a Venezuelan who works in Boa Vista and was on the border returning from Venezuela. “There were shots, they burned rubber tires.”
Some Venezuelans reacted to the attack by destroying a car with Brazilian license plates, Marcano said.
She and her companions were among many who took refuge at checkpoints on the Venezuelan side of the border.
Three Brazilians were hurt in the clashes, a military police spokesman said.
No information was immediately available on the state of the Venezuelans involved.
Roraima State Governor Suely Campos made a plea to temporarily close the border and asked Brasilia to send security reinforcements to “face the increase in crime” she linked to Venezuelans in the region.
The Brazilian Ministry of Public Security vowed to send a contingent of 60 troops, due to arrive today, to join teams in the area.
Tensions are rising in Latin America over migration triggered by the crises in Venezuela and Nicaragua, where Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has led a crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Peru and Ecuador are halting immigrants at the border by requiring would-be border-crossers to show their passports — which many lack — instead of simple identity cards.
In Costa Rica, hundreds of people on Saturday took part in sometimes violent protests using Nazi symbols to repudiate Nicaraguan migrants.
Some demonstrators, carrying swastikas, tried to attack Nicaraguans gathered in the central La Merced park in San Jose, and clashed with police who tried to contain them, Costa Rican Security Minister Michael Soto said, adding that there were only minor injuries.
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