What’s next for Colombia and Venezuela after reopening trade borders?
(CNN Spanish) — The passage of two trucks across the borders between Colombia and Venezuela was the symbolic act that sealed the reopening of trade between the two countries and marks a new era in the bilateral relations of these two countries that share more than 2,300 kilometers of border.
This Monday, after seven years of closed passage for bilateral transport, and this representing an obstacle to trade, the governments of Gustavo Petro and Nicolás Maduro sealed the alliance to gradually return to the normalization of relations, which began since August of this year, first with the appointment of ambassadors in the two countries and now, by reestablishing border trade.
“Today is a historic day for the region, for the country, for South America, for America in general,” said an emotional Gustavo Petro, who was present along with officials from both governments at the border that connects Norte de Santander with the Tachira state in Venezuela.
The questioned president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, who was not at the event on the border, thanked Petro “for this immense step we have taken to restore the relations of brotherhood, union, cooperation, and complementarity between our peoples, which It’s the most important thing.”
This Monday, a new stage began to be woven between promises of prosperity and a return to normal bilateral relations that have years of history for two neighboring countries, however, there are still some challenges that need to be addressed such as trade issues, transportation and border security.
This is what comes in the reconstruction of the relations of the two countries.
Trade and transport, a progressive reopening
Although transport was reopened this Monday, there is still a long way to go before transit is completely free as in the past.
The two countries had not stopped exchanging goods, however this only occurred from Paraguachón in Guajira to the state of Zulia, at the northern end of the border.
Now it is expected that with the change of the route Cartagena-Maicao-Guarero-Urenawhich previously had to be done by carriers, now directly from Cartagena-Cúcuta and from there to Venezuela, reduces not only the transit time, but also the cost of transport freight.
Through the state of Táchira, where San Antonio is located, pedestrian crossings have been allowed since the middle of last year. Now the passage of cargo trucks will be opened, but progressively.
Pedestrian crossing will only be allowed from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. with the presentation of the border card, an identification for those who frequently cross between the two countries.
The passage of cargo vehicles at the borders is enabled between 10 am and 6 pm on the Simón Bolívar and Ureña bridges, with a load limit of 30 tons, due to the state of the bridges, which are still under review.
The other international bridge is expected to open in a few weeks, that of Tienditas, also in Norte de Santander, which was delivered in 2015, but has never been used.
The Colombian Minister of Transportation, Guillermo Reyes, said that details and protocols are being worked on “that guarantee the efficient, progressive and safe transit of both people and cargo carriers” at all borders.
Issues such as the reactivation of the public passenger transport system between the two countries and the exchange and crossing of private vehicles between border cities are still pending, according to what Víctor Bautista, border secretary of the government of the department of Norte de Santander, previously said, quoted by Reuters.
Flights are still waiting
The air connection between the two countries is also a pending issue. Although government representatives had said that on September 26 a flight would connect Caracas with Bogotá for the first time in two years —flights were suspended since the start of the covid-19 pandemic—, the truth is that there was no flight this Monday, according to the Minister of Transport of Venezuela, Ramón Velásquez, due to lack of permits.
“Regarding cargo transportation, we are working on the issue. Conviasa as an airline is ready waiting to advance” in the permits, said Velásquez from Cúcucta, this Monday.
Previously, it was planned that the state airline Conviasa would cover the first flight between Caracas and Bogotá, but due to the sanctions of the United States on the Venezuelan airline, the route scheduled for Monday between Caracas and Bogotá was suspended and has not been reported until now. when it might open, Reuters reported.
Commercial flights connecting Bogotá-Caracas are expected to start from Colombia on August 4, however, ticket sales through Wingo, which is the only airline authorized so far, are suspended.
CNN has reached out to Wingo for comment. So far he has not received a response.
Regarding maritime and river connectivity, the Ministry of Transport of Colombia reported last week that “there will be no restriction on river navigation and, on the contrary, the maritime connection between Colombian and Venezuelan ports will be strengthened,” in order to “raise to a higher level” binational relations between the two countries.
The revival of trade
In the formal act of this Monday, the cargo trucks that crossed the borders were loaded, on the one hand, with steel cylinders from Venezuela to Colombia and the other, the first truck that moved from Colombia to Venezuela, was transporting medical supplies.
Four of the trucks of the Transporte el Cóndor company were also prepared to move toilet paper, plastic cups and textiles valued at about 80,000 dollars, said manager Diego Bohórquez, reported Reuters.
While countries have never stopped trading goods during crisis years, trade has dropped dramatically in recent years.
The Minister of Industry and Commerce of Colombia, Germán Umaña, projected that with the reopening of the border and the reactivation of trade through this route, income is estimated between US$1,000 and US$1,200 million and at the end of the 4 years of government it could reach approximately US$4.5 billion, a figure that is still far from reaching records such as that of 2008, the “best year for bilateral trade”, according to the Colombian authorities, when a figure of US$ 7,000 million annually in trade.
So far in 2022, Colombia has exported to Venezuela items such as confectionery, polypropylene, mineral fertilizers, palm oil, margarine, soybean oil, compresses and tampons, insecticides and electric accumulators.
From Venezuela, chemical products, salt, sulfur, machinery and electrical equipment, aluminum and its manufactures, fish and plastics, among others, have arrived in Colombia. according to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
Border security, a critical issue
One of the greatest challenges of this reactivation is security on the porous border between the two countries, since in the absence of a state presence, armed groups have proliferated throughout the departments of Norte de Santander and Arauca, and from there to the Venezuelan, says a report from the Peace and Reconciliation Foundationpublished on August 31 this year.
Armed groups such as the “FARC dissidents, the Clan del Golfo and other smaller groups such as the Sinaloa Cartel, La Frontera, La Línea, the EPL and El Tren de Aragua,” according to Pares, have this region in check. Hundreds of murders and massacres, kidnappings, mandatory confinements due to violence, clashes between illegal armed groups, and even between the ELN and the Colombian Army have been reported there; also threats against social leaders and not to mention the disputes of criminal gangs to control territories for drug trafficking.
Only in the Catatumbo area, in Norte de Santander, close to Venezuela, a series of armed groups come together that fight to control the business of illicit crops on the common border.
A series of illegal economies converge in this region, such as “taxes on gasoline, beer, chemical inputs, smuggling or the production of coca base paste,” according to PAIRSand these sources of income have perpetuated the war.
In this regard, President Petro spoke of recovering the region safely and assured that he hopes that with the reopening of the borders, those who benefit are the inhabitants of the region to avoid security risks.
“I want the first beneficiaries to be those who live on both sides of the border; those who took risks on those trails, the women who walked there practically (at the mercy) of officials who even collected tolls, and gangs of all kinds, multi-crime, who could kill, who could rape”, Peter said.
Meanwhile, Maduro also spoke about a coordinated security plan for the border:
“The coordination for security is already taking place, the joint security plans between Colombia and Venezuela to combat the criminal border gangs, which make life difficult for the people of the border, with kidnapping, smuggling, violence. ”, Said the Venezuelan president last week before the protocol act on Monday with which he began a new chapter in the relations of neighboring countries.
— With information from Osmary Hernández from Caracas and Reuters.