Mérida, April 11th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – A tense week, with Venezuela and the U.S. disputing over the extradition of drug trafficker Walid Makled from Colombia, ended with Colombia confirming he would be extradited to Venezuela, and presidents Hugo Chavez and Juan Santos meeting on Saturday and signing 16 cooperation agreements.
While such meetings between the two presidents take place every three to four months, Saturday’s meeting was significant, as Venezuelan government politician Carlos Escarra had asserted that right-wing sectors in Venezuela and internationally wanted to use Makled to make relations between Colombia and Venezuela “bitter”.
The 16 agreements were in the areas of energy, science, health, tourism, the fight against drug trafficking, and social development of shared border areas.
Venezuela’s state news agency AVN reported that the two presidents met for over eight hours and they agreed on the need for more “dynamism” in the two countries’ trade relations with the aim of recovering the rhythm of exchange before breaking off relations mid last year.
“The spirit of the discussion is to seek ways to return trade to the traditional dynamics,” Santos said.
Chavez also told the press he was satisfied with the agreements reached and urged the Latin American region to continue strengthening relations with their neighbours, “so we can consolidate ourselves as a zone of peace and democracy, so we never return to a time of wars between each other.”
“After this meeting the relationship between our countries has been strengthened,” said Santos.
Chavez concluded that it was important to put the agreements into practice, “One loses sight of all the possibilities that we are willing to develop… we’re willing to build a solid union, hopefully all sectors will take on this spirit of unity,” he said.
Border Development and anti-drug cooperation
Development of regions along the Colombo-Venezuelan border was a key point of the meeting between the presidents. They agreed to a social investment plan in those areas, which includes promoting the productive activity of coffee growers, and promoting cultural initiatives.
The presidents also signed an infrastructure agreement to increase cooperation in this respect in the border areas.
In addition, they signed two agreements to broaden existing mechanisms of cooperation in this area, to better coordinate confronting drug smuggling groups that operate along the borders of both countries, and to exchange intelligence information.
Economy and production
One agreement was for the construction, in Venezuela, of an aluminium and steel mould factory to help with Venezuela’s housing mission, which aims to confront the housing shortage here. Venezuela’s state run cement companies will also buy cement clinker, a cement additive, from the Colombian company Argos, for the same purpose.
Also, through Venezuela’s Bicentenary Fund, it will buy industrial, corporate, and school uniform material.
Importantly, Venezuela will formally leave the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), which currently provides the legal framework for trade between Colombia and Venezuela, on 21 April. The two presidents agreed to extend the current rules by three months while their respective negotiating teams concretise a new agreement.
CAN is a regional integration organisation formed in 1969, and now has four members: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Chavez announced in 2006 that Venezuela would leave the CAN because he believed the organisation was effectively dead and due to free trade agreements signed between Colombia, Peru, and the U.S
Chavez commented that the new trade agreement with Colombia could be adapted to “the new times…the new world reality that we’re living in”.
Also, according to Santos, Venezuela has paid 90% of its debt to Colombian businesses for imports.
Tourism and health
The two presidents announced increased flights between Caracas and Bogota and set a one-month deadline to present a plan for sending petrol to various Colombian populations.
Three of the agreements signed were in the area of health, including Venezuela buying medical supplies, conducting a study to construct a generic medicines factory, and a prevention plan for the border populations.
Meeting with Porfirio Lobo, president of Honduras
The two presidents also met with Porfirio Lobo, “president” of Honduras who was elected in November 2009 following a coup there in July and widespread violence in the lead-up to the elections. Lobo has refused to recognise the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and Venezuela has opposed Honduras’ re-entry into the Organisation of American States (OAS) while it is led by Lobo, who Venezuela feels is part of the military coup regime.
The Colombian government organised the meeting, as it has been working to re-establish Honduras’ participation internationally and in regional organisations like the Organisation of the Americas, from which Honduras was expelled following the coup.
The presidents gave little information about what was discussed in the meeting. However, Chavez told press, “We want to be useful to the processes of harmonization, of unity, friendship, and integration… and we should all understand that, and when I say “all” I don’t just mean the presidents, I mean society, political interest groups in our countries…”
Third Santos-Chavez meeting
Saturday’s meeting was the third between the two presidents since Santos became president in August last year. They plan to meet again in July in Venezuela.
Following Santos’ swearing in, Chavez met with him for the first time and the two countries agreed to restore diplomatic relations. Venezuela ended relations with Colombia under President Alvaro Uribe after Uribe accused Chavez of protecting illegal Colombian guerrillas at a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) a month before.