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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Venezuela, Colombia finalize border reopening

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Venezuela and Colombia reopened the last stretch of their shared border Sunday after settling a diplomatic dispute that had kept it closed for years.

Cars honked and passengers waved flags as vehicles with license plates from the two South American countries traversed the Atanasio Girardot bridge — previously blocked by shipping containers amid high tensions.

Also known as Tienditas, the bridge was the final step necessary for a full reopening of the border since the countries restored diplomatic ties last year.

A ceremony, which included a blessing by bishops, was held Sunday to reinaugurate the border crossing, with officials from both sides in attendance wearing white guayaberas and carrying balloons with their countries’ shared national colors — yellow, blue and red.

The neighbors share a 2,200-kilometer (1,350-mile) border through a region riddled with armed groups contending for lucrative drug trafficking and smuggling routes.

Transport over the border was partially closed seven years ago and then completely blocked in 2019 when Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro broke off diplomatic ties after Colombia under then-president Ivan Duque questioned his 2018 re-election.

Many other countries, including the United States, did not recognize Maduro’s victory in an election widely condemned as rigged.

After assuming power last year as Colombia’s first-ever left-wing president, Gustavo Petro immediately sought to re-establish ties with Venezuela and pushed to reopen the border.

On September 26, goods trucks were allowed through border crossings that had been open only to pedestrians.

Air links have also since resumed.

Restoring ‘brotherhood’

“We have taken important steps,” Maduro said in an interview broadcast Sunday on Venezuelan state TV.

Silvano Serrano, governor of Colombia’s Norte de Santander department where the bridge is located, said that “as a single territory, today we join the historical, cultural and social brotherhood that has always identified us.”

The countries hope to reinvigorate trade, which stood at $7.2 billion in 2008, but has since  collapsed.

The Atanasio Girardot bridge connects the Venezuelan city of Urena with Cucuta in Colombia, and had been blocked by shipping containers placed there by the Venezuelan army.

Millions have left Venezuela in recent years, as the country suffers from a deep economic crisis that has seen poverty soar, with many settling in Colombia.

Venezuela is also one of the guarantors of ongoing negotiations between the the ELN guerrilla group and the Colombian government, which hopes to reach a peace agreement similar to the historic accord signed in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. 

On Saturday, Petro announced that a ceasefire agreement had been struck with the ELN and other armed groups that would last from January 1 to June 30.

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