Colombia and Venezuela took a big step towards the normalization of bilateral relations on Monday, after the conflictive border crossing across the Táchira River was reopened for trade amid a big display of rapprochement from both nations — although with the notable absence of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
His recently-elected Colombian counterpart Gustavo Petro was joined by Venezuela’s Ambassador to Colombia, Félix Plasencia, and Táchira Governor Freddy Bernal, who all witnessed the passage of two trucks, one from each side of the border, over the Simón Bolívar International Bridge.
“We stood by our word. I hope the opening of the border foreshadows a future of prosperity for Colombia, Venezuela, and all of America,” said Mr. Petro, who promised to normalize relations during his campaign.
The presence of both presidents was a matter of speculation over the last few days, but the two sides wanted to downplay the event somewhat, as a Petro-Maduro photo-op would have sparked too much controversy for the young Petro administration.
Mr. Petro is not just the first openly left-wing president in Colombia’s history, he also came to power after two decades of fierce rivalry between Colombia’s right-wing administrations and the authoritarian leftist regime now led by Mr. Maduro in Venezuela.
Colombia’s border city of Cúcuta and Venezuela’s Táchira state were often at the center of conflict, as the Bolívar bridge was used by Venezuelan migrants to escape the country’s economic crisis, as well as by smugglers looking to bypass bans on trade or get hold of some hard cash to combat hyperinflation.
Traffic through the border had been closed since 2015, after Venezuela denounced the presence of Colombian paramilitary officers on their side of the river.
In 2019, Colombia and the U.S. joined forces to organize a concert with leading Latin American artists near the border demanding it be reopened to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela, but the efforts stalled after a truck attempting a crossing ended up being set on fire by anti-Maduro protesters.
While individuals on foot had been intermittently allowed passage during the seven-year crisis, today’s reopening is the first step in a broader agenda of border normalization that should include the passage of ambulances, public transport, and private vehicles over coming months, although the latter remains a complicated subject.