The Petro Government In Colombia Paves The Way For a New Relationship With Venezuela

Demonstrators with flags of Colombia and Venezuela, on Sunday in San Antonio del Táchira during the inauguration of Gustavo Petro

On the Simón Bolívar international bridge, a passage that connects Colombia with Venezuela between the cities of Cúcuta and San Antonio del Táchira, dozens of Venezuelans gathered on Sunday to accompany Gustavo Petro’s inauguration from a distance. The expectation of the Government of Nicolás Maduro about what may happen in Bogotá is great. Petro promised to reactivate diplomatic relations with Caracas, suspended in 2019, after Maduro decided to break with Colombia in response to Iván Duque’s decision to back Juan Guaidó. But already in 2015, the friction had reached the point that Maduro ordered the bridge to be closed, after the attack on some Venezuelan soldiers in the area.

This border, more than 2,200 kilometers long, has been in recent years the most delicate and tense in all of Latin America. Since 2015, more than six million people left Venezuela and more than three million of them chose to stay in the Americas, according to the Refugee Agency of the United Nations (UNHCR). Many of them have done so on foot, illegally, thanks to the porosity of their border crossings, the so-called trails, where in addition to people pass medicines, fuel, food and all kinds of goods.

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From Caracas, Maduro congratulated Petro this Sunday and called for “rebuilding the brotherhood.” From Bogotá, the position is more restrained. The new Colombian foreign minister, Álvaro Leyva, made it clear that they would move forward with the normalization of relations, but that it would not be immediately. The resumption of formal links may take longer than expected. “It will surely be gradual, it will be focused on some specific issues at the beginning and with the purpose of generating mutually credible and sustainable trust,” Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, doctor in International Relations, vice-rector of the Torcuato Di Tella University and researcher, told elDiario.es. in the Colombia Chair. “If positive progress is made, that will be of enormous importance for South America.”

In the world there are almost one million Venezuelans recognized as refugees and another million who have pending asylum applications, according to the latest report of the United Nations, and Colombia is the main destination with almost two million Venezuelans. Despite the closure of the crossings, “people continue to cross,” said the UNHCR representative, Marie-Helene Verney, in the presentation Of the report. The agency estimates that some 2,000 Venezuelans continue to cross daily, especially many women with children alone who enter Colombia irregularly.

For this reason, the reestablishment of diplomatic relations is a promising event for the analysts consulted. For María Paula Saffon, a lawyer from the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia and a doctorate in Political Science from Columbia University in New York, Petro will try to recover the bilateral link, with the aim of reestablishing border integration and responding to the migratory problem. , but without falling into the trap of naive political unconditionalism that could end up linking the new Government of Colombia with “Venezuela in its authoritarian project.”

“We only have three options: cooperate, attack or isolate ourselves. Our government will not be one of isolation or aggression. Colombia will be known as a world power for life. Our government will maintain open channels of communication with the democratically elected government of Venezuela,” he said. Petro after the second round.

Petro wants, according to Tokatlian, that a scenario of peace on his border guarantees him a sufficient margin of maneuver so that his democratic expansion project is viable. “There has been a notable security dilemma between Bogotá and Caracas. That dilemma refers to a situation in which security concerns can lead two countries to a bilateral conflict, even without either expressly seeking it,” he says. the vice-chancellor of Di Tella.

The dynamic referred to by the specialist is a known pattern. If a State tries to guarantee its security through a set of policies that involve a relative increase in its defense budget, the modernization of its conventional weapons and the strengthening of external alliances, the neighboring country perceives that the policies developed produce insecurity, so so it also increases its military spending, buys more supplies and strengthens international alliances. “Then the feeling of reciprocal vulnerability spreads and bilateral mistrust rises,” says Tokatlian. “This has been the main feature of the bilateral relationship for years.”

In October of last year, the Maduro government announced the commercial opening of the same bridge that was the meeting point last Sunday to celebrate the landing of Petro. But a week after the announcement, on December 22, the operation had to be suspended. The failure of the attempt revealed the complexity involved for either of these two countries to normalize the relationship in the midst of so much mistrust.

But the closing of the accesses has done nothing more than hit bilateral trade and fuel illegal contraband through calls trails, as illegal border crossings are known. In 2008, trade between these countries exceeded 7,200 million dollars, a record that was liquefied until reaching the ground of 222 million in 2020, according to the Chamber of Venezuelan-Colombian Economic Integration (Cavecol). Last month businessmen met with political and union leaders with the aim of reactivating trade once the new government takes office.

Isabel Castillo, president of the Táchira Chamber of Commerce, told that institution that “all the scaffolding is ready” for commercial activities to resume in the area. Despite the difficulties, Táchira businessmen are optimistic about the medium term: 79% believe that sales will increase when bilateral relations are normalized, according to the latest Cavecol survey.

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