Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro attend a joint press conference following a meeting to discuss ending a row that had kept their border entirely closed for nearly a year, August 11, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Venezuela and Colombia have agreed to partially reopen their common border a year after Caracas decided to close the country’s frontier crossings in a dispute over security and smuggling.
The agreement was made between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his Colombian counterpart Muan Manuel Santos in talks in the eastern Venezuelan town of Puerto Ordaz on Thursday.
During the talks, the two leaders reviewed reports by their advisers on cross-border smuggling and security and agreed to reopen pedestrian border crossings between the two nations.
Maduro expressed optimism that the reopening would lead to a “new frontier of peace” and “a new beginning for economic and trade relations.”
Santos said that the discussions would continue on opening up the border to cargo vehicles, saying that he and Maduro agreed to open five pedestrian crossings for 15 hours per day effective as of Saturday.
Venezuelans cross a bridge linking San Antonio del Tachira, in Venezuela, with Cucuta, in Colombia, to buy basic supplies, July 17, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
“It will be a temporary opening schedule while we learn and adapt to the decisions so that each step we take will be accurate and positive,” Santos said, adding, “What we are going to do is open the border gradually.”
He further said that the possibility of setting up Venezuelan gas stations in Colombia was also under discussion so that Venezuela could sell its gasoline across his country.
According to Santos, security was the chief concern at the border, and the two Latin American countries had decided to set up a joint initiative to battle organized crime this week.
“This is very important because it is going to make it possible for the rest of the border to operate peacefully,” he said.
Maduro sealed off Venezuela’s 2,200-kilometer western border with Colombia in August 2015 following an attack on a Venezuelan army patrol that injured three people. He blamed the attack at the time on right-wing paramilitaries from Colombia.
Thousands of Venezuelans had been crossing the border into Colombia on sporadically organized schedules to buy food and other basic goods as their country faces a severe economic crisis that has led to shortages of basic stuff.