Colombia and Venezuela open key binational bridge as ties heat up

BUCARAMANGA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia and Venezuela on Sunday opened a key bridge connecting countries that had been closed for nearly seven years amid political tensions, launching an era of improved relations under the new leftist president. Colombian.

Delegations led by Colombian Minister of Commerce Germán Umaña and Governor of the Venezuelan state of Tachira, Freddy Bernal, gathered in the middle of the “Tienditas” bridge linking Tachira and the Colombian state of Norte de Santander for the ceremony of opening.

“As of today, all border crossing points are open for transport,” Bernal said, adding that the political will exists to continue improving relations between neighbors.

The construction of the bridge ended in 2016, but it was never inaugurated due to the political crisis between South American countries. The bridge, which cost more than $32 million to build, was designed to relieve congestion on the region’s two other binational bridges and facilitate trade.

In 2019, Venezuelan socialist President Nicolás Maduro ordered that more than a dozen cargo containers be placed on the bridge to symbolically block it to protest opposition attempts to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela. from Colombia.

Diplomatic and trade relations between Colombia and Venezuela were restored in September following the inauguration of Gustavo Petro – a former guerrilla – as Colombia’s president.

Petro’s predecessor, Iván Duque (2018-2022), called Maduro a “dictator” and made Colombia one of 50 countries that recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, accusing Maduro’s re-election for being fraudulent.

“Tienditas” was the latest crossing point connecting the countries to reopen along their 2,200 kilometer (1,367 mile) border after relations were restored.

“In political terms, ‘Tienditas’ is the symbol of the resumption of dialogue between the two countries,” said Ronal Rodríguez, a researcher at the Venezuela Observatory at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia.

Pedro Benítez, a political analyst and professor at the Central University of Venezuela, told The Associated Press that the key symbol of restoring relations was the first face-to-face meeting between Petro and Maduro in November.

Benitez said the restoration of trade relations between the neighbors so far has been “very bumpy” as incoming Colombian products have been very expensive due to “non-institutional obstacles attributed to Venezuelan officials”.

The resumption of commercial relations began with the activation of traffic on the Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander bridges in September. From there to November, 385 trucks crossed the bridges, most from Colombia to Venezuela carrying goods such as medical supplies, fiber optics, textiles, toilet paper and cardboard. Steel coils, motors and pipes were transported from Venezuela to Colombia.

Between January and October 2022, total trade between the two countries reached $512 million, an increase from $394 million for all of 2021, but still far from the $7 billion in bilateral trade seen in 2008. .

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