Petro Upends Colombia Diplomacy by Reaching out to Venezuela

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro spoke to Venezuela’s government about reopening the border between the countries, likely heralding the end of a long diplomatic impasse and the reactivation of trade.

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Petro, who will be sworn in Aug. 7, said he plans to “restore the full exercise of human rights on the border.”

The move is the deepest diplomatic change planned by Petro so far, as the leftist leader looks to re-make foreign policy in Latin America’s closest US ally. Diplomatic ties were severed in 2019 after Colombia joined the U.S. in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro congratulated Petro and reaffirmed his willingness to “re-establish normalcy” at the border in a phone call with the newly-elected leader earlier today.

US President Joe Biden also congratulated Petro on his victory this week, reaffirmed his support for Colombia and said he welcomes the chance to discuss security and counter-narcotics.

Colombia’s current President Ivan Duque has an acrimonious relationship with Maduro. The two have never held an official meeting and regularly exchanged barbs on social media and television broadcasts.

The 2,200-kilometer (1,380-mile) border used to be of great importance for both economies. Venezuela was Colombia’s biggest trading partner after the US, and largest export market for its manufacturing and agricultural goods.

There was a partial re-opening of trade in October. Last year Colombia exported just $331 million of goods to Venezuela, down from $6.1 billion in 2008. Nearly two million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia in recent years to escape economic hardship at home.

The closure of official border crossings led to a surge in contraband over informal routes controlled by organized crime.

(Updates with comments from Maduro in the fourth paragraph)

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