4 Years after diplomatic rupture, Colombia-Venezuela ties on firm footing

By Sabela Bello and Jaime Ortega

Bogota/Caracas, Feb 23 (EFE).- Four years to the day since Colombia and Venezuela severed diplomatic ties, the two countries have effected a 180-degree shift in their relationship since the election of leftist Gustavo Petro and are pursuing integration on different fronts.

The already tense bilateral ties were broken off completely on Feb. 23, 2019, when the US-backed, self-proclaimed “interim president” of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, tried to enter that country from the Colombian city of Cucuta at the head of a humanitarian caravan, an attempt that led to disturbances on the border.

Colombia’s support for that failed operation led Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to sever diplomatic and consular ties with the neighboring country, whose then-President Ivan Duque had predicted days earlier that time was running out for the Venezuelan “dictatorship.”

“It’s clear that the previous government’s policy was not the right one,” Julio Londoño Paredes, a former Colombian foreign minister who is now dean of the School of Political Science, Government and International Relations at Bogota’s Universidad del Rosario.

Restoring diplomatic ties was “positive for the country’s image,” he said, recalling that between February 2019 and Petro’s June 2022 victory at the ballot box Colombia was seen as a “bridge for an eventual United States intervention in Venezuela.”

In the three and a half years following the diplomatic rupture, the border (which had not functioned normally since 2015) was a virtual no man’s land. Closed to trade, the only traffic in that region consisted of Venezuelan migrants moving westward on irregular routes known as “trochas” to flee the longstanding economic crisis in their homeland.

That all changed after Petro took office in August of last year, with the neighbors re-establishing full bilateral relations, naming ambassadors and finally reopening the main border crossing to trade in September.

“The opening of the border and the normalization of relations with Venezuela was something necessary and expected by a large number of Colombians and Venezuelans,” Londoño said.

Since then, the two countries have resumed cooperation on trade, border security, the free circulation of people and goods and air connectivity, although much more ground must be covered to achieve a full normalization of ties.

Despite the border reopening, red tape on both sides of the border is still preventing faster growth in bilateral trade, which grew just 1.49 percent between August and November.

To remedy the problem and remove any existing barriers, Maduro and Petro signed an agreement last week aimed at boosting the value of bilateral trade to $1.8 billion this year, although that would still be far short of the roughly $7 billion in trade in 2008.

The border closure in recent years did not prevent thousands of Venezuelans from walking daily into Colombia to stock up on food and medicine, nor did it stop an exodus that saw some 2.5 million people settle in the Andean nation.

Those cross-border movements mainly occurred along hundreds of “trochas,” which still exist but now see much less traffic due to the reopening of the official border crossings.

The re-establishment of diplomatic ties has been accompanied by renewed cooperation on investigations and other judicial proceedings, according to Colombia’s ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti.

Although air connections between the two countries were not suspended after the severing of bilateral ties, the pandemic was a perfect excuse to halt those flights.

And even after the Covid-19 crisis waned and skies around the world once again started filling up with planes, flights between Caracas and Bogota did not resume until Nov. 10, more than three months after Petro took office.

“Relations have been normalized, but not totally because neither investment nor consular services” have been restored to the previous level, Londoño said. EFE


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