Barely any change since Colombia, Venezuela reopened mutual border
By Hector Pereira and Geraldine Garcia
Caracas/Bogota, Oct 25 (EFE).- The border between Colombia and Venezuela is showing little change almost a month since it was opened to the passage of vehicles and trade after being closed for seven years, a milestone that both governments saw as providing an immediate economic benefit but which, so far, has resulted in only limited trade operations.
Every day, pedestrians walk along the edges of the binational bridges to cross from one side of the border to the other, since the roadway itself is reserved for cargo trucks, although – on average – just three vehicles per day have been crossing since Sept. 26, when Colombian President Gustavo Petro headlined the reopening ceremony.
The prolonged closure of the border translated into the dismantling of customs activity at the border, at least on the Venezuelan side, where authorities are now trying to break out of the longstanding lethargy and gear up for more trade, although it still takes about three days to check out the cargoes that enter from Cucuta, Colombia.
In the opinion of the Venezuelan Colombian Economic Integration Chamber (Cavecol), a gradual process is under way that should result in increased confidence among businessmen which, in turn, could continue to reduce the time cargoes remain in customs and eliminate the illegal charges levied by police and soldiers along the roadways.
“Trade is done among people, among businessmen. So, inasmuch as you are certain that (a certain) channel is secure … you’re going to direct yourself, you’re going to operate via that route,” Cavecol president Luis Alberto Russian, who is well-versed in the past month’s exports of iron, aluminum, coal and strawberries to Colombia, told EFE,
On the other hand, he continued, plastics, glassware, toilet paper, cardboard and footwear supplies have also been entering. In terms of tonnage, Venezuela has sent about 400 tons of merchandise across the border, while Colombia has sent only about 160 tons.
Although smuggling of merchandise along the 2,219-kilometer (1,376-mile) border persists, formal trade has increased a bit over the past 30 days, according to Cavecol estimates, although the organization did not specify the exact amount of trade since the border reopened.
Nevertheless, it is estimated that so far this year approximately $900 million in merchandise has been exchanged.
The chamber, which groups more than 100 businesses from many different sectors, emphasized that expectations are high, especially for tourism, since Venezuelan tourism operators want vehicle traffic to be increased and air connectivity to be resumed so they can welcome the Colombian visitors who, for decades, have been their country’s main international tourism “consumers.”
On the other hand, although the figures and cargo totals in Cucuta stemming from the border reopening are encouraging, for many of the people who cross the border each day via the international bridges – which connect the Venezuelan state of Tachira with Colombia’s Norte de Santander province – it all amounts to a big fraud.
“The governments talk about millions and millions, of trucks filled with merchandise, medical supplies, and about the reopening, but as long as I’m continuing to walk from my house to Cucuta there’s been no reopening,” Venezuelan citizen Arturo Ramirez, pushing a cart full of merchandise under a 40 C (104 F) sun, told EFE.
In like manner, thousands of people each day have to cross the border on foot – no matter what the weather – without being sure when they’ll be able to cross in their own vehicles, a situation that, according to some, makes the whole reopening just a “media show.”
The resumption of direct flights between the two countries that was announced on Sept. 26 also has not resulted in any real activity and it’s still not known when those flights will commence or which airlines will be involved.
The money generated by international trade and the prospective shipment of merchandise don’t really affect individuals who cross back and forth over the bridges on foot, and they don’t see the process as something that’s gradually getting better but rather as the same old closure that’s been in place for years.
Colombia’s ambassador in Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, said that the scenario will be changing, albeit slowly, because the aim is not to affect either economy too much or too precipitously.
“Everything’s ready, but it must be done gradually. We’re going slowly and that must be understood, since the Venezuelan economy – in the past – was more solid and the customs issue was easier,” the diplomat said recently during a meeting of officials from both countries on the border.
The meeting is one of a number of agreements and activities undertaken with the aim of uniting the two nations in all areas, a campaign that is encountering problems on all fronts, including on the boarder, where the political will has not been sufficient to revive the trade and exchange dynamics buried for the past seven years.