BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The presidents of Colombia and Venezuela on Friday announced that the years-long closure of their countries’ shared border to cargo transport will end Sept. 26. Air service between their capitals will also resume.
The announcement comes a month after Gustavo Petro was sworn in as Colombia’s first leftist president, beginning a thaw in relations between his country and the government of Nicolás Maduro. The presidents tweeted the announcement.
“We confirm the government’s commitment to restore brotherly relations,” Petro said.
The border crossing bridges are currently open to pedestrian traffic. Limited cargo transport is allowed only at one bridge in the northern portion of the countries’ shared 1,370-mile (2,200-km) border.
Maduro tweeted that Bogotá and the Venezuelan cities of Caracas — the capital — and Valencia will be connected again via air traffic.
“The exchange and cooperation between our peoples are starting off on the right foot,” he tweeted.
Petro, who took office Aug. 7, abandoned his conservative predecessor’s opposition to Maduro and quickly moved to re-establish relations with his government. Both countries have now accepted each other’s ambassadors.
Petro and Maduro are yet to have a state visit.
Under the presidency of Ivan Duque, Colombia was among the dozens of countries that withdrew recognition of Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader after his 2018 re-election, which they argued was a sham.
Maduro expelled all Colombian diplomats in 2019. By then, sanctioned trade between the South American countries had long been suspended.
Maduro in 2015 ordered the closure of legal crossing points after an incident during anti-smuggling operations at a border community. Foot traffic eventually resumed, and some cargo continued to move through the northern most bridge.
All sorts of goods have continued to enter Venezuela illegally over dirt roads manned by armed groups and others with the blessing of officials on both sides of the border. Similarly, illegal imports also enter Colombia, but on a smaller scale.
Criminals also use the dirt roads for drug and human trafficking.
The commercial exchange that in 2014 reached $2.4 billion was reduced last year to about $406 million, of which $331 million were imports from Colombia, according to the Chamber of Venezuelan-Colombian Economic Integration. The group, based in Caracas, estimates this year’s activity could reach $1.2 billion if the crossings reopen to vehicular traffic.
The Venezuelan government has estimated that the commercial exchange within a year of a fully reopened border could exceed $4 billion.
Business owners in border communities have constantly asked for the reactivation of trade between the countries, particularly after the additional economic challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic.
The two nations are linked by several border crossings. All but two are within a 45-mile (75-kilometer) stretch, which before the shutdown handled 60% of commercial activity between the neighbors.
That area includes a finished bridge that never operated due to political tensions. Venezuela years ago set up shipping containers and cement barricades on the bridge to block it.
Luis Russián, the chamber’s chairman, said the announcement shows that the governments have been able to reach “basic consensuses” in their complex agenda.
“We hope that this will then contribute to the economic and social growth of people both on the border and at the level of the national markets of Venezuela and Colombia, which historically were complementary… and that in recent years, for different reasons, they looked for partners outside of the region,” he said.
Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.