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Colombia and Venezuela seal the end of their little cold war with the reopening of the border


The flow of the first containers and the imminent reactivation of flights marks the new stage in relations between the governments of Petro and Maduro

Containers block the Tienditas bridge, on the border between Colombia and Venezuela, on August 5. Matias Delacroix (AP)

Colombia and Venezuela will once again be connected by land and by air.

Despite the obstacles, the reopening of the extensive and porous border they share, a claim by communities, unions and businessmen on both sides, is already marked on the calendar.

With the possible presence of President Gustavo Petro, cargo traffic will be restored this Monday through the binational bridges that connect the Colombian department of Norte de Santander and the Venezuelan state of Táchira, an expected milestone in an axis that in its good times came to to be the busiest border crossing in Latin America and that continues to be the great symbol of a border line of more than 2,200 kilometers.

The reactivation of flights between Bogotá and Caracas, despite last minute obstacles, also seems imminent.

Waiting for a meeting of leaders soon, the assistance of Nicolás Maduro is not on the agenda.

Since Hugo Chávez's heir banned vehicles from crossing the border in August 2015, only ambulances and hearses reach the international bridges, de facto converted into pedestrian crossings.

There, in the middle of the bridges, just where the structure marks the limit between the two countries, they transfer coffins and patients to another vehicle with national license plates.

A similar dynamic is expected this Monday with the transfer of the first containers between trucks from both countries.

The first two bridges authorized for the passage of vehicles and cargo will be the Simón Bolívar and the Francisco de Paula Santander, structures with more than half a century of service.

In both, the night load passage will be authorized –between 7:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.–, and during the day they will remain as pedestrian crossings.

The Tienditas bridge, a modern work that has never been formally inaugurated, is called to play a leading role in the recovery of trade, but it still needs about three months of technical and infrastructure adaptations, especially on the Venezuelan side.

For now, the trucks will arrive at a point in the other country and transfer the cargo to national trucks, the respective transport ministers explained this week after meeting in Caracas.

The two capitals, already with their respective ambassadors in office, are advancing in a "gradual normalization" after years of irreconcilable differences during the period of Iván Duque, the main promoter of a failed "diplomatic siege" on Maduro.

Tensions have worsened since February 2019 due to the attempt by the Venezuelan opposition, led by Juan Guaidó, to bring food and medicine through the border bridges, an episode that Maduro described as an "invasion" attempt and led him to break from all relationships.

"The most important message that you want to send from the border, to both sides, is that this can never happen again, even if there are political, diplomatic or economic model differences," says Carlos Luna, president of the Committee Intergremial de Norte de Santander, which has been one of the hosts of the two business meetings that in recent months have paved the way for the reopening, in San Cristóbal and Cúcuta.

“It is up to us to rebuild not only diplomatic and political relations, but also in terms of infrastructure and logistics.

Of course, there is much to be done, but what is fundamental is the will, the restoration, and the decision of Presidents Petro and Maduro to open the border and seek normalization.”

The commercial exchange between Colombia and Venezuela exceeded 7,000 million dollars in 2008, but has plummeted since then, falling to its lowest figure in 2020, around 222 million dollars.

In 2021, bilateral trade closed at 394 million, and in July of this year it was at 383 million dollars.

"This is one of the liveliest borders in Latin America and that is why we are moving forward, because it must be a stable, lasting and secure opening," stressed the Minister of Commerce, Germán Umaña Mendoza, a renowned professor of economics at the National University who He came from presiding over the Colombo-Venezuelan Chamber.

At the end of this year, the exchange could approach some 1,000 million dollars, and for next year, hand in hand with the recovery of the energy sector in Venezuela, it could be in the order of 1,800 or 2,000 million dollars, according to the projections of Minister Umaña.

"What we are proposing is that at the end of President Petro's government, on August 7, 2026, we will have recovered levels close to 4,000 or 4,500 million dollars," he said in a recent interview with EL PAÍS.

“Nothing is more important than the reopening itself, the decisions and sectoral agreements will take place at a good pace because I see an unwavering decision by Presidents Petro and Maduro to unify us in the purposes and innumerable benefits that a historical event like this will bring. for the Colombian-Venezuelan people,” says former Minister of Commerce José Fernando Bautista, who has also been mayor of Cúcuta and ambassador to Venezuela.

“Everyone is betting on this to work,” he concludes.

The Caracas-Bogotá route is reactivated

The revival of air travel between the two countries is also imminent.

At first it had been agreed that the first flight between Caracas and Bogotá would take place this Monday, at nine in the morning, operated by Conviasa.

But US sanctions on the Venezuelan state airline, included in the so-called Clinton List, have left it on hold for now.

The restrictions prevent any company from doing business with the airline, which could not refuel in Bogotá, and until the last minute the authorities of the two countries discussed alternatives.

On Saturday, the Colombian Civil Aeronautics announced that it authorized the Venezuelan Turpial Airlines "to land in Bogotá next Monday, September 26, from Caracas."

Beyond the obstacles faced by the Venezuelan state airline, other frequencies remained firm.

The airline Wingo - a subsidiary of Copa, which has maintained flights to Venezuela from Panama - has already received final approval from the Venezuelan authorities to sell tickets for the route between the El Dorado airport in Bogotá and the Maiquetía airport, which serves Caracas, with an inaugural flight on October 4.

Wingo will initially fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

"Depending on demand, the service would then be increased to a daily flight," the company explained in a statement.

The Colombian Ministry of Transport anticipates that more airlines will fly this route again – which the Petro Government, with less than two months in power, included as a goal for its first 100 days.

Avianca and Latam are still waiting for approval of the permit, while Satena – owned by the Colombian State – has ruled out being interested at the moment.

Avianca, the main Colombian airline, formally began the operational and regulatory process four months ago, and next week its technical teams will visit Maiquetía to process the authorizations.

"We are ready to reconnect two sister countries," says Felipe Gómez, director of institutional relations for Avianca.

Airlines usually need a couple of months to market a new flight.

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2022-09-25

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