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The border between Colombia and Venezuela will reopen to freight traffic

BOGOTA, Colombia — The Colombian and Venezuelan presidents announced Friday that the years-long closure of their countries’ shared border to freight transport will end on September 26. Air service between their capitals will also resume.

The announcement comes a month after Gustavo Petro was sworn in as Colombia’s first leftist president, beginning a thaw in relations between his country and the government of Nicolás Maduro. The presidents tweeted the announcement.

“We confirm the government’s commitment to restore brotherly relations,” Petro said.

The border bridges are currently open to pedestrian traffic. Limited freight transport is only allowed at one bridge in the northern part of the countries’ 1,370-mile (2,200 km) common border.

Maduro tweeted that Bogotá and the Venezuelan cities of Caracas – the capital – and Valencia will once again be connected via air traffic.

“Exchanges and cooperation between our peoples are off to a good start,” he tweeted.

Petro, who took office on August 7, abandoned his conservative predecessor’s opposition to Maduro and moved quickly to restore relations with his government. Both countries have now accepted each other’s ambassadors.

Petro and Maduro have yet to receive a state visit.

Under President Ivan Duque, Colombia was among dozens of countries that withdrew recognition of Maduro as the rightful leader of Venezuela after his re-election in 2018, which they say was a sham.

Maduro expelled all Colombian diplomats in 2019. By then, sanctioned trade between South American countries had long been suspended.

Maduro in 2015 ordered the closure of legal crossings after an incident during anti-smuggling operations in a border community. Foot traffic eventually resumed and some goods continued to cross the northernmost bridge.

All kinds of goods continued to enter Venezuela illegally through dirt roads manned by armed groups and others with the blessing of authorities on both sides of the border. Similarly, illegal imports also enter Colombia, but on a smaller scale.

Criminals also use the dirt roads for drug and human trafficking.

Trade that reached $2.4 billion in 2014 was reduced last year to around $406 million, including $331 million in imports from Colombia, according to the Venezuelan-Colombian Chamber of Economic Integration. . The Caracas-based group estimates that this year’s activity could reach $1.2 billion if the crossings reopen to car traffic.

The Venezuelan government has estimated that trade in the year following the full reopening of the border could exceed $4 billion.

Business owners from border communities have consistently called for the reactivation of trade between countries, especially after the additional economic challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The two nations are connected by several border crossings. All but two are within a 45-mile (75 kilometer) radius, which before the shutdown handled 60% of business activity between neighbors.

This area includes a finished bridge that never worked due to political tensions. Years ago, Venezuela installed shipping containers and cement barricades on the bridge to block it.

Luis Russián, speaker of the chamber, said the announcement shows governments have been able to reach “basic consensus” in their complex agenda.

“We hope that this will then contribute to the economic and social growth of the populations both on the border and at the level of the national markets of Venezuela and Colombia, which were historically complementary… and that in recent years, for different reasons, they looked for partners outside the region, he said.

Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.