Venezuela and Colombia Deepen Diplomatic and Economic Ties

Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolás Maduro and Colombian Foreign Relations Minister Jaime Bermúdez met in Caracas Wednesday to discuss commercial relations and anti-drug policy, demonstrating the first efforts at reconciliation between the two countries.
Foreign Relations Ministers Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela (right) and Jaime Bermudez of Colombia in Caracas Wednesday. (ABN)

Mérida, March 19th
2009 ( — Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolás
Maduro and Colombian Foreign Relations Minister Jaime Bermúdez met in Caracas
Wednesday to discuss commercial relations and anti-drug policy, demonstrating
the first efforts at reconciliation between the two countries since a heated
exchange in early March over Colombia's justification of cross-border raids on
guerrilla rebels.

"Venezuela and Colombia are
two governments with the willingness and capacity to approach one another,
broadly discuss and concretize their ideas to move forward on projects that
benefit both countries in the midst of uncertainty in the world economy," said
Maduro during a press conference alongside Bermúdez.

"The world can observe a
plural Latin America agreeing upon and advancing on its own path," Maduro added.

Regarding energy policy, the
two ministers discussed their policies on biofuels, electricity, and the
environmental impact of energy production and consumption, and moved forward on
plans to build an oil pipeline from Venezuela's Orinoco Oil Belt to Colombia.

They also exchanged ideas
about how to better organize the gasoline trade at the border, where the smuggling
of Venezuela's heavily subsidized gasoline thrives.

Maduro and Bermúdez also
spoke about the automobile industry, including the potential expansion of
import and export quotas between the two nations and a technology sharing
agreement to promote the conversion of cars to dual gasoline-natural gas

A joint investment fund of
$200 million and agricultural stimulus were also on the agenda Wednesday, but the
ministers said they plan to consult with their respective presidents, Álvaro
Uribe of Colombia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, before making any final

The potential fund will be
"a new bi-national financial institution that is aimed, overall, at maintaining
and growing the flow of investments in the midst of the current economic crisis
that spreads across the world," Maduro told the press. "In the first semester
of this year we hope to make decisions on economic accords aimed at
complementary, integral commercial development," he said.

Minister Bermúdez thanked
Venezuela for supporting its successful bid for the presidency of the
Association of Caribbean States in January. Regarding Wednesday's meeting, he
said, "There is definitely an enormous agenda that obligates us to advance
side-by-side in common projects, even more so with the financial crisis."

Bermúdez asked Venezuela to
accompany Colombia in the struggle to halt drug trafficking, which has been a
major source of funding for both sides of Colombia's four-decade civil conflict
between rebel guerrillas and the government.

"It is fundamental to
emphasize that a definitive triumph in the fight against drug trafficking will
be achieved with the un-conditional support of the entire international
community," said Bermúdez.

Maduro said Venezuela is
committed to combating drug trafficking through Venezuela, highlighting the
sharp increase in drug interdictions and the eradication of drug laboratories
from Venezuelan territory over the past three years. Maduro also invited the
director of Venezuela's National Anti-Drug Office, Néstor Reverol, to
participate in Wednesday's meetings.

In response to Venezuela's
repeated warnings to Colombia to keep drug-related fumigations out of
Venezuelan territory, Bermúdez promised not to fumigate within ten kilometers
of the border. "There are no fumigations foreseen along the border with
Venezuela, but we do plan to fumigate in the north of Santander in
municipalities that lie as close as 25 kilometers from the border," he

Both ministers said they
will consider the possibility of coordinating drug policy directly with one

The friendly tone of
Wednesday's meeting contrasted sharply with the diplomatic clash earlier this
month after Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said Colombia's
bombardment of an encampment of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) in Ecuadoran territory one year ago was a justifiable act of

Chávez said Santos's
declaration threatens to destabilize the region and violates a peace-keeping
agreement signed by all South American heads of state shortly after last year's

President Chávez has been
an enthusiastic advocate of regional integration initiatives as a tool to
endure the effects of the global economic crisis. Colombia participates in one
of these integration blocs, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), but
not in others, such as the cooperation-based trade bloc called the Bolivarian
Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an alternative to U.S.-dominated free
trade deals.

Despite periodic conflicts
and heated exchanges, President Chávez and President Uribe have met regularly
over the past five years to sign economic accords and craft large-scale
infrastructure projects that are a part of South American Inter-Regional Infrastructure
(IIRSA), which are financed in part by the Inter-American Development Bank and
the World Bank.

Maduro highlighted this history
of cooperation Wednesday. "This meeting is the continuation of the ongoing
effort to contribute to the positive work agenda, an agenda of peace and
integration between both governments," said Maduro.