Santa Elena, September 22nd, 2015. (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos agreed to “normalize relations” and work cooperatively Monday after a month-long spat over Venezuela’s closure of their shared border.
The two South American leaders met in Quito for the diplomatic parley, which was facilitated by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Uruguayan Head of State Tabare Vasquez.
"Common sense, dialogue and peace between our peoples and our countries have triumphed today," said President Maduro after the talk.
The Venezuelan leader closed parts of the border with Colombia in mid-August after three soldiers were attacked by alleged paramilitaries. The closures were subsequently expanded as part of a broader response to the smuggling and organized crime pervasive in the frontier region.
Over 3000 soldiers were deployed to the area and hundreds of arrests were made, including dozens of Venezuelan military officials associated with illicit border activity. 1500 undocumented Colombians were also deported, primarily from the makeshift city and notorious smuggling hub, La Invasion, in Tachira state.
In the weeks following, President Santos took aim at the Venezuelan campaign, pointing to claims of human rights violations made by deportees.
However, yesterday's talks saw the Colombian leader change his tune to focus more on the core issues that provoked the border closures.
“Drug trafficking obligates us to work together,” Santos said, announcing an outline for cooperative efforts.
“Gasoline contraband will be discussed in working groups which have been established with concrete dates [and] where Uruguay and Ecuador will accompany us to obtain good results,” the Colombian leader added.
In response to concerns for the deportees, Venezuela reaffirmed yesterday its commitment to investigate claims.
On Saturday, the Maduro administration announced that in the true spirit of “Bolivarianism,” or Pan-Latin American unity inspired by the 19th century independence leader Simon Bolivar, a government-sponsored Movement of Colombians for Peace will be enrolling Colombians across the country to participate in initiatives to improve quality of life on the border and to combat xenophobia.
58,800 Colombian residents in the country have already enrolled, all in the state of Tachira.
Juan Carlos Tanus, an activist who works with migrants in Venezuela, told teleSUR Monday that the effort has revealed that 46 percent of Colombians living in the country have “irregular” immigrant status, and two percent do not possess documents to either or any nation.
President Maduro, who himself has Colombian parentage, has repeatedly emphasized that of the five million Colombians who live legally in Venezuela, many were displaced from their country due to poverty and violent conflict.
According to UN data, 173,600 Colombians in Venezuela hold legal refugee status, not one of whom has been deported from the Bolivarian nation.
At the summit, Maduro also promised to investigate allegations that Venezuelan jets violated Colombian air space earlier this month.
Representatives from both countries will meet again to follow-up on bilateral issues in the coming weeks.