Caracas, November 3rd, 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, met on Tuesday for the second time since Santos became president just three months ago. In Caracas yesterday, the two leaders announced plans to consolidate improved relations, meet every three months, and begin a number of oil, gas and transportation projects along the Venezuela-Colombia border. Venezuelan gasoline shipments to Colombia are to restart on Wednesday.
Numerous Agreements Signed
According to the Venezuelan News Agency (AVN), Chávez and Santos discussed a number of bi-national accords in the areas of textiles, agricultural and meat production, energy, housing construction, automobile manufacturing, tourism and infrastructure.
“We’ve gone from good-intentioned statements to concrete accords,” said Santos.
The two presidents reviewed work underway in five bi-lateral commissions – commercial, social, security, border and infrastructure – established during their first meeting in August.
They signed agreements to build the Tienditas Bridge, linking the border areas of Ureña (Colombia) and San Antonio (Venezuela), as well as to transform the existing José Antonio Páez Bridge into an international border crossing between the Venezuelan state of Apure and the Colombian state of Arauca.
The two countries also agreed to study the possibility of extending the Venezuela-Colombia Antonio Ricaurte gas pipeline to Central America and building an additional pipeline between the Orinoco River basin and the Pacific Ocean.
Venezuela committed to paying off US$ 600 million in debt it holds with Colombian export companies by the end of the year, having already paid off an initial US$ 336 million.
According to Santos, Colombia and Venezuela will sign a free trade agreement by April of 2011. An initial round of talks is scheduled to take pace in Caracas next week.
Economic ties between the two countries are traditionally strong. In 2008 alone, the countries traded an estimated US$7 billion in goods.
Chávez and Santos began their diplomatic exchange with a visit to the National Pantheon of Venezuela, the resting place of Venezuelan and Colombian liberation hero Simón Bolívar. They later held a private meeting at Miraflores Presidential Palace and ended by speaking to the press.
“The world should know that Chávez and Santos are committed to not allowing anyone to derail us, independent of political differences,” affirmed Chávez.
The Venezuelan president spoke to what he called “shared interests” between the two countries.
“We are obliged to unite. We’ve agreed to meet every three months. I ask the entire nation to help nurture [this new relationship], to do everything necessary to overcome the difficulties, to open these paths and follow-up on these agreements so that they not remain on paper. There is great potential for complementarity between us. We will work on this with South American passion to advance the interests of our peoples,” said Chávez.
Santos, former Defense Minister of Colombia (2006-2009) during the Uribe government, followed-up on Chávez’s remarks.
“We are two brother nations. We fought together against Spanish oppression, we were born 200 years ago and we have had our differences, it is true…But our destinies are the same. We must work together if we want to free ourselves from another oppression – poverty and inequality,” he said.
In reference to the United States, Chávez said that he hopes, “no foreign force is capable of provoking any type of damage in these fraternal relations.”
AVN also reported on Tuesday that Venezuelan plans to send an additional 15,000 troops to the Venezuela-Colombia border in an increased effort to fight drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion.
Venezuela and Colombia renewed diplomatic relations in August this year, after several years of tense relations between the Chávez government and that of ex Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Relations between the two governments were severed in March 2008 after Colombia bombed what it claimed was a “FARC encampment” in Ecuadorian territory. Santos, Defense Minister of Colombia at that time, authorized the raid.
Relations were restored three months later after Venezuela helped secure the release by FARC rebels of long held hostage Ingrid Betancourt.
In July of 2009, Colombia accused Venezuela of providing Swiss weaponry to the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC). In response, Venezuela froze all economic and diplomatic relations with Colombia while Chávez called the accusations a “new aggression” by Uribe.
In November of last year, both countries exchanged accusations at meetings of the Organization of American States (OAS). At OAS meetings that month, Colombia accused Venezuela of planning “military aggressions” while Venezuela accused Colombia and the United States of “threatening war” by signing an agreement allowing U.S. military personnel to operate freely throughout Colombia.
In July, 2010, weeks before Uribe handed over the presidency to Santos, Venezuela cut off all relations with Colombia and put Venezuela’s armed forces on “maximum alert” after Colombia filed official complaints to the OAS accusing Venezuela of providing safe havens to the FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN).
The FARC and ELN are considered “terrorist organizations” by the Colombian and U.S. governments.
Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated president of Colombia on August 7th, 2010, with the presence of Venezuela’s Minister of Foreign Relations, Nicolás Maduro. Three days later, Santos met with Chávez for the first time in the Colombian town of Santa Marta, renewing bi-relations.