Tillerson visits Bogotá as Venezuelan crisis affects Colombia

Tillerson to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos

By Cody Weddle, Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

BOGOTA - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Bogotá Tuesday evening to talk about the war on cocaine, the peace accord and Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, according to the U.S. State Department

After visits to Mexico, Argentina and Peru, Tillerson said the U.S. was considering more sanctions and a possible embargo on Venezuela. He said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is running for a re-election, needed to step aside and allow Venezuelans to have multiparty elections. Maduro has no intentions of doing that. 

"I know the people love me and I will be president for the period 2019-2025, which is going to be a period of great achievements, dreams and prosperity," Maduro said Saturday during a campaign event. "After we win the elections, we will dedicate ourselves exclusively to building a new economy." 

President Donald Trump's threat to cut aid if Colombia doesn't lower cocaine production loomed over Tillerson's meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who was set to make an announcement related to Venezuelan immigration Thursday in Cucuta.  

Venezuelans who didn't believe in the Venezuelan Socialist Party's promises started to leave for the U.S. and Spain in 1998. Those unable to afford U.S. dollars or euros chose to go to Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Guyana, Trinidad, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.

The United Nations reported that asylum applications for Venezuelans soared during the first half of 2017. Colombian immigration authorities recently estimated some 150,000 Venezuelans were in the country illegally, about 263,000 were on transit to another country, and some 632,000 traveled back and forth to buy food, hygiene products and medications. Some 35,000 make the daily journey and return the same day

Although most of the Venezuelans in Colombia are in Cucuta, Villa del Rosario and Arauca, many have made the trek to Bogotá where most are working in restaurants, hair salons and cafes. Some have opened businesses and increased demand for real estate. 

The Colombian newspaper El Espectador reported that Colombian authorities fined 600 companies for hiring undocumented Venezuelans. Most of the undocumented Venezuelans in Bogotá are working as street vendors selling coffee and Colombian fast food at busy intersections. The most vulnerable are working in prostitution and living in the streets. 

The immigration crisis comes as Colombians deal with the transitional needs of the members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and political tensions, as the FARC's Socialist Party launches their candidates. 

Tillerson plans to travel to Kingston, Jamaica, Thursday. 

Copyright 2018 by WPLG Local10.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.