SAO PAULO: Brazil will send troops to its border with Venezuela on Monday 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 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 street.
Dozens of locals then attacked the two main immigrant makeshift camps and burned their 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.”
Marcano said that some Venezuelans reacted to the attack by destroying a car with Brazilian license plates. 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 spokesman for military police said. No information was immediately available on the state of the Venezuelans involved.
The merchant who was attacked “is known, he is a neighbor, and there was indignation when it was learned that he had been robbed,” a local told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“People began to expel Venezuelans who were in the center of the city, forcing them to return to their country.”
Roraima state Governor Suely Campos made a plea to temporarily close the border and asked Brazilia to send security reinforcements to “face the increase in crime” she links to Venezuelans in the region.
In turn, the public security ministry vowed to send a contingent of 60 troops due to arrive Monday to join teams in the area.