Fast-tracked Rapprochement Between Venezuela and Colombia

VA columnist Sergio Rodríguez breaks down the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Colombia.

The presidential election in Colombia revealed what appears to be a bright future for diplomatic relations with Venezuela, marking a transcendental change after recent past events. Despite standing on opposites sides of the political spectrum, Colombia’s two presidential candidates Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernández had both expressed their intention to immediately reestablish ties with their neighbor country in case either won.

Caracas expressed its satisfaction with embarking on a new era of respectful bilateral relations but was cautious about favoring one candidate over the other before the final election results were in. Understandably, the Bolivarian government was paving the way to engage with Bogotá’s new president, whoever that would be, to work in the interests of both nations.

Gustavo Petro’s second-round victory on June 19 cleared any doubts about which path the two countries were going to take. It is no secret that in political terms —and despite their evident differences— Petro is much closer to Caracas than Hernández. His militancy in the Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19), a Colombian Marxist guerrilla organization affiliated with Bolivarianism (1974 – 1990), establishes an affinity with Venezuela’s political process from its very roots.

Following Petro’s electoral triumph, the two countries began to look for the best routes to rebuild and reshape relations after years of hostilities and cut-off communication. Only three days after the election, Petro talked to President Nicolás Maduro talked on the phone and publicly announced a common disposition to normalize the countries’ 2.219-kilometer shared border.

For his part, Maduro congratulated the newly elected Colombian president on behalf of the Venezuelan people and that the phone conversation focused on peace and a prosperous future for both peoples.

The first conversation between Petro and Maduro set the tone to get rid of barriers, spurred by US interests in the region, that blocked normal political and economic ties. On July 4, the Venezuelan city of San Cristóbal, only 57 kilometers from Colombia, was the stage for an event called “Border Agreement” featuring businessmen from both countries. The goal was to lay the groundwork before the imminent reopening of the border, partially closed since 2015 and completely shut in 2019.

Venezuela’s Táchira state governor Freddy Bernal acted as host receiving representatives of Colombia’s progressive Historic Pact coalition, Rubén Zamora and Wilfredo Cañizares. In addition, a “very high-level commission” made up of Colombian senators, politicians, and trade union leaders took part in this first encounter between the two governments as well. On July 29, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Carlos Farías also welcomed the new Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister Álvaro Leyva Durán in the city of San Cristóbal, marking another significant effort to improve bilateral relations.

On August 4, a similar event took place in Colombia’s department of La Guajira, where businessmen from both sides of the border met to establish conditions for companies that will participate in the renewed trade between the two nations.

This second encounter was held at the Paraguachón border crossing in La Guajira, next to Zulia state in western Venezuela. “Our basic proposal is complementarity in order to promote business and boost imports to the Caribbean region, integrating the Wayuu indigenous community,” said Venezuelan businessman Rafael Bula Blanco.

Participating in the same meeting, Colombia’s new Border Advisor Alfredo Saade likewise stated that the new government’s “greatest goal” was to improve economic indicators for both peoples through healthy commercial ties along their shared border.

Building diplomatic and trade relations involves military coordination as well. On August 9, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López received instructions from President Maduro “to establish immediate contact with the Colombian Defense Minister (Iván Velásquez) to reestablish military relations.”

Both countries face the common challenge of battling Colombian paramilitary organizations and other irregular armed groups that operate on the border area and regularly enter Venezuelan territory. The most recent reported aggression took place in January in Venezuela’s southern border state of Apure while dozens of Venezuelan soldiers died in confrontations throughout 2021.

Continuing with the accelerated actions to change the Caracas-Bogotá tumultuous past, on August 10 the Colombian Senate approved a number of policies aimed at reestablishing relations with Venezuela in several sectors, chiefly among them border security issues.

Although these steps might seem small, they got the ball rolling. However, the biggest issue still pending between the neighboring countries is the return of Colombia-based Venezuelan agrochemical company Monómeros to Caracas. President Petro recognized that this is a thorny but urgent issue that needed a prompt resolution given the company’s delicate financial situation. “We have to see technically how it [Monómeros] can be restarted, analyzing the legal forms and the system of sanctions that is still in force,” he said.

On August 12, the Bolivarian government appointed a new board of directors following the Superintendency eliminating the 2021 decree that had placed Monómeros under Colombian state control. Caracas submitted the list of names before the Barranquilla Commerce Chamber as it looks to retake normal operational control over the enterprise.

Finally, the normalization process was capped off when Caracas and Bogotá appointed ambassadors. Maduro named former Foreign Affairs Minister Félix Plasencia as the new ambassador to Colombia while Petro chose Armando Benedetti, a former senator, as his representative to Venezuela.

Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein is a geopolitics expert, journalist, and professor with a PhD in Political Science from Venezuela’s Universidad de los Andes. He is the author of 16 books, including De Bush a Trump. De la guerra contra el terrorismo a la guerra comercial and La controversia entre Bolívar e Irvine. El nacimiento de Venezuela como actor internacional.

A former director of International Relations for the Venezuelan presidency and Venezuelan Ambassador to Nicaragua, Rodríguez Gelfenstein is currently a guest researcher at Shanghai University’s Graduate School.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.