Mexico City, Mexico, August 15, 2022 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro named former Foreign Minister Felix Plasencia as the new Ambassador to Bogotá as part of efforts to restore diplomatic relations following the inauguration of Gustavo Petro as president of Colombia.
Maduro praised Plasencia, who also previously served as ambassador to China, as someone with a wealth of “diplomatic and political experience.”
The new ambassador, who is expected in Bogotá soon, tweeted that “Bolivarian diplomacy” would be the basis to strengthen a “historic fellowship” between the two countries.
Petro responded to Plasencia’s appointment by likewise naming former senator Armando Benedetti as Colombia’s ambassador to Caracas.
The naming of their respective ambassadors is a crucial step in efforts to restore full diplomatic relations. Both diplomats first require the approval of the receiving country, which is widely expected following years of tension between the Caribbean states.
Caracas broke off diplomatic ties with Bogotá in February 2019 after Petro’s predecessor Iván Duque joined Washington’s regime change efforts in neighboring Venezuela in recognizing Juan Guaidó as the self-declared “interim president” and his efforts to violate Venezuelan borders under the guise of delivering “humanitarian aid.”
Guaidó’s representative in Colombia Eduardo Battistini, who was recognized by the Duque administration, said he would remain in Colombia despite the change in policy by the new Petro government.
Petro, who as president has embarked on a mission to dramatically remake his country’s foreign policy, said that Benedetti had the “arduous” task of normalizing relations between the two neighbors and “restoring institutionality” to the relationship.
The decision by Duque, a protegé of former far-right Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, to recognize Guaidó despite the fact that the opposition figure exercised no actual authority led to a near total breakdown of institutional relationships, severely affecting common interests between the two countries.
For his part, Benedetti vowed that restored diplomatic relations would benefit 8 million Colombians and that formal cross-border trade would reach US $10 billion. The activity in the area reached a high of $8 billion in 2008. It gradually wound down until the border was closed for cargo crossings in 2015.
Petro took another important step toward restoring institutional ties with Caracas with the return of Monómeros, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Pequiven, to the hands of the Maduro government.
Last Monday, the Maduro government appointed a new board of directors of Monómeros, submitting the documentation to the Barranquilla Chamber of Commerce, where the enterprise is headquartered.
The Colombia-based agrochemical producer is considered Venezuela’s second most important foreign-held asset. It came under the control of Venezuela’s hardline opposition in May 2019 following Duque’s recognition of Guaidó.
After being handed over to the opposition, the company was plagued by scandals and corruption allegations, eventually coming under the control of Colombia’s Corporation Superintendency, which severely impacted its productivity and generated serious problems for Colombia’s rural producers.
Petro has stated that agrochemical producers such as Monómeros will play a key role in reducing the cost of food by bringing down the price of fertilizer.
The Maduro government is likewise seeking to boost trade and economic activity in the border region. The Venezuelan president said that Vice President Delcy Rodriguez had been tasked with developing a plan to reopen Venezuela’s border with Colombia.
Business interests in both countries are interested in the creation of a “Special Economic Zones” (SEZ) in the area. The Venezuelan National Assembly recently approved legislation concerning the creation of these zones, although the Venezuelan government has not explicitly stated if a SEZ will be created in the border region, however these are usually located in areas with heavy trade and commerce.
Although the movement of people between the two countries has been a historic feature of the bilateral relationship, millions of Venezuelans in recent years have left in light of the multifactorial crisis afflicting the Caribbean country.
The restoration of diplomatic relations is also expected to deliver material benefits to the millions of Venezuelans living in Colombia, as well as the millions of Colombians in Venezuela, who had been deprived of consular services for over three years.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.