Mérida, August 25th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro held talks with local mayors, political organizations, military, and police officials in the Colombia-Venezuela border zone on Tuesday to create a plan to improve security, restart cross-border commerce, and provide social programming for the border population.
Maduro promised an increase in health, housing, and education programs in the border zone, as well as more government investment in infrastructure and local commerce. He also said he would meet with local business owners this week to “evaluate the economic activity on the border, in light of the process of regularization and betterment of the relations with the new government of Colombia and the possibilities that are opened for the region.”
The working groups were part of the process of renewing bilateral relations between the two nations, which severed diplomatic ties between July 22 and August 10 as the result of outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s accusations that Colombian armed insurgents take refuge in Venezuelan territory.
The clash was the latest in a two-year chain of diplomatic spats that have taken a grim toll on the border populations of the two countries by causing a 70% decline in bilateral trade and stoking fear of armed conflict in the region.
Maduro said improving bilateral relations with Colombia would bring direct benefits to the border populations. “The re-structuring of the whole binational economic structure is possible today,” said Maduro. “We are gathering the opinion of the people in the street, and the actions that will develop from this working group will be directed toward the modest men and women who are waiting for the governments to advance on a plan of action.”
Colombian Foreign Minister María Holguín, addressing the Colombian Parliament, said Maduro’s trip to the border zone was “an autonomous decision by our neighboring country that we are pleased to take note of and that goes in the direction of strengthening security on the border.”
“The steps that have been taken in past days create trust between the countries,” said Holguín, adding that Colombia’s own commissions on border security and commerce are preparing reports. “We feel satisfied... The security forces of both countries have suggested very good strategies,” said Holguín.
Minister Holguín met with Minister Maduro and President Chavez in Caracas last Friday to initiate work on five bilateral commissions in the areas of debt and commerce, economic complementation, social programming, border infrastructure, and security.
Venezuela agreed to pay $200 million to Colombian exporters who say the payments were stalled by the severance of bilateral economic relations last year. Colombia agreed to establish a mechanism to prevent corruption by monitoring invoicing in the transactions.
Both countries expressed a commitment to fully restore bilateral trade, which surpassed $7 billion in 2007 but then took a dive when Venezuela began replacing its Colombian imports with imports from other countries to protest a new Colombian military deal to allow the US military to carry out “full spectrum operations” with diplomatic immunity on Colombian bases.
On Friday, President Chavez spoke of the “geopolitical” significance of relations with Colombia, particularly the potential of connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by way of a transnational pipeline, roads, railways, and ports. “Pacific, Caribbean, Atlantic. An outlet for Venezuela in the Pacific by way of Colombia is a great necessity,” said Chavez.
Holguín and Maduro plan to meet again on September 4 in Colombia to review the progress of the various commissions that have been formed. A summit of defense ministers and other top military leaders from both countries is also planned for September. President Chavez plans to meet for a second time with Colombia’s new president, Juan Manuel Santos, this time in Colombia on a date to be determined.
The secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, and the secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Nestor Kirchner, congratulated both countries this week for their progress in resolving their conflicts peacefully. Insulza formally announced the end of the OAS’s involvement as a mediator in the bilateral conflict.
The OAS is the international body in which Colombia presented its accusations on July 22, and it includes Colombia’s powerful ally, the United States. UNASUR is where Venezuela responded to the accusations during an emergency summit, and it is an initiative of only South American countries that has a more progressive integration agenda than the OAS.
Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), one of the insurgent groups Colombia suspects takes refuge in Venezuela, released a statement on Monday directed to the presidents of South America, saying, “When you consider it opportune, we are willing to exhibit in an assembly of UNASUR our vision of the Colombian conflict.” The statement was signed by the FARC Central Secretariat and concluded, “Peace in Colombia is peace for the continent.”
Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón publicly opposed the FARC’s suggestion, saying it prefers to engage in talks without intermediaries. Garzón had previously offered to begin direct negotiations with the FARC on the condition that the insurgent group releases all its hostages and stop using “terrorist” tactics such as mines and bombings.