Puebla, Mexico, August 11th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela and Colombia agreed Thursday to reopen their shared border over the weekend.
Five pedestrian crossings will open for 15 hours on Saturday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos confirmed.
Maduro said the deal represented a “new frontier of peace”.
“We’re at the gateway of providing an example of how to construct, and reconstruct, relations of every type: human, political, diplomatic,” Maduro expressed, according to state news agency AVN.
The announcement came after widely anticipated talks between the two heads of state in the Venezuelan town of Puerto Ordaz Thursday.
Welcoming the outcome of the talks, Santos said the 15 hour opening is the first step towards “gradually” normalising the border situation.
“It will be a temporary opening schedule, while we learn and adapt … so that each step we take will be accurate and positive,” he continued.
The Colombian president also said further talks will aim to reopen the border to freight.
Both leaders also emphasised the need for greater border security. Santos said his government had agreed to an exchange of customs records, as part of efforts to crack down on the illicit trade in Venezuela’s heavily subsidised petrol.
Petrol smuggling was one of the key reasons for Maduro’s 2015 decision to shut the border. The border closure has reduced the smuggling of as many as 980 000 litres of cheap Venezuelan fuel everyday, according to government figures.
Last week, Venezuela and Colombia agreed to a five point plan to bolster border security. According to Venezuelan newspaper Ultimas Noticias, the two countries are also seeking to improve military cooperation, along with improving infrustructure and public services in border regions.
Saturday’s border opening will be the third such temporarily lifting of restrictions since Maduro shut down all crossings last August. Maduro ordered the shutdown in the wake of a paramilitary attack on Venezuelan military forces near the border. The attack prompted a massive security crackdown by the Venezuelan government.
Previous openings have seen Venezuelans flock across the border. As many as 35,000 Venezuelans crossed into Colombia during the first single day opening in July, with many hunting for consumer goods scarce in Venezuela. The second opening a week later took place over two days, and saw over 100,000 crossings, according to Colombian immigration figures.