By José Luis Granados Ceja
MEXICO CITY, Mexico, (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelans and Colombians flocked to the Simón Bolívar international bridge Monday to celebrate the reopening of the international border following the restoration of diplomatic and economic relations between Caracas and Bogotá.
Prior to the official opening, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro called it a “historic and transcendental” day.
“We are resuming relations and taking firm steps to advance in the total and absolute opening of the border between sister peoples: Colombia and Venezuela,” wrote Maduro on Twitter.
Colombian president Gustavo Petro, who has worked to improve bilateral relations with Venezuela after taking office in August, personally traveled to the border region to take part in the ceremonies.
“This is a symbol of unity, [the border] should never be closed,” said Petro as we walked along the Simón Bolívar international bridge, the locale chosen for the ceremonial event.
The reopening of the border comes seven years after its closure and three years after the breakdown of diplomatic relations. Caracas broke off ties with Bogotá in February 2019 after Petro’s predecessor Iván Duque joined Washington’s regime change efforts in neighboring Venezuela in recognizing Juan Guaidó as the self-declared “interim president”. Duque’s efforts to violate Venezuelan borders under the guise of delivering “humanitarian aid” via the Simón Bolívar international bridge led to a total breakdown in diplomatic relations.
The effort to deliver so-called aid was eventually proven to be part of a strategy by Washington and the Venezuelan hardline opposition to attempt to embarrass Maduro on the international stage. Former US National Security Advisor John Bolton eventually confessed that the violent incursion on the Simón Bolívar international bridge formed part of a coup plot aimed at ousting the democratically elected government in Caracas.
A Venezuelan truck adorned with the colors of the Venezuelan and Colombian flags was the first to use the reopened crossing Monday. Meanwhile, a truck with medicines was reportedly the first to cross from Colombia to Venezuela.
In a speech following the reopening of the border, Petro spoke about the void that was filled by organized crime groups following the closure, which largely controlled movement of people and contraband at the border.
The Colombian president said that this decision would lead to the “qualitative leap” in the protection of human rights.
Petro focused on the commercial benefits that the reopening of the border would provide. Analysts have stressed that the restoration of economic relations must bring material benefits to communities in both Venezuela and Colombia, a point that the Colombian head of state touched upon.
“The first beneficiaries should be those who live in the border region,” said Petro.
Venezuelan political figures, including Fredy Bernal, governor of the Venezuelan state of Táchira, and Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia Félix Plasencia were on hand to welcome the Colombian delegation. A military band played the anthem of both countries as political representatives held a white flower representing the peaceful relationship between Colombia and Venezuela.
Colombian Senator Gloria Flores told media outlets that it was time to turn back the “hate and xenophobia” that was instilled among the populations of both countries.
“We are part of a common path, foreign interests cannot continue to divide us, they will never be able to separate us again,” said Flores.
Flores, who hails from Petro’s ruling coalition, said lawmakers from Colombia and Venezuela were working on holding a meeting between legislators in the coming days in order to deepen efforts to rebuild the bilateral relationship. Authorities further announced that the Tienditas international bridge was also expected to open soon.
Colombian Senator César Pachón, also from the ruling “Historic Pact” coalition, shared a video on social media of the delivery of what he described as the first sack of potatoes to Venezuela and spoke about anticipated benefits of a restored trade relationship.
Venezuela delivered Friday the first shipment of raw materials required for the production of fertilizer to the port in Barranquilla, Colombia. The materials are destined for Monómeros, a key foreign asset that was recently returned to the Venezuelan government after years of mismanagement and scandals while under the control of the Guaidó-led opposition.
Monómeros once played a major role in Colombia’s food chain, previously supplying nearly half of the fertilizers and 70 percent of the agrochemicals used by coffee, potato and palm oil production.
One pending issue in the bilateral relationship is the effort to establish peace in the border region. The ministers of defense of Colombia and Venezuela, Iván Velásquez and Vladimir Padrino López, respectively, met at the border on Saturday with leaders pledging to cooperate on security and trade issues.
Leaders from both countries have further pledged to develop economic integration strategies, with Colombia floating the possibility of a train linking the Colombian city of Cúcuta with the Maracaibo region in Venezuela.