Maduro and Petro appoint ambassadors and hasten reestablishment of relations

Venezuela and Colombia appointed their respective ambassadors to advance in the normalization of their diplomatic relations, broken in 2019, after the coming to power in Bogotá of the leftist Gustavo Petro.

Petro and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicholas Maduro announced this Thursday the names of their diplomatic representatives: former foreign minister Felix Plasencia will be the Venezuelan ambassador in Bogotá, while the former senator Armando Benedetti will be sent to Caracas.

“We will continue step by step, at a safe step, advancing in the reestablishment and reconstruction of political, diplomatic and commercial relations,” Maduro said in a speech on state television.

Petro followed a few minutes later: “I have decided in response to the Venezuelan government, which has appointed the ambassador who will have the responsibility of normalizing diplomatic relations between the two countries, to appoint Armando Benedetti as Colombia’s ambassador to Venezuela.”

Both countries broke relations in 2019, the height of a link plagued by tensions in two decades of clashes between the ruling Chavismo and the right-wing period that began Alvaro Uribewhich ended with the arrival of Petro to power.

A previous restoration was impossible since the previous president Iván Duque did not recognize Maduro as president but the opposition leader Juan Guaidó, considering that the president’s re-election was fraudulent.

Diplomatic contact was lost, consulates and flights were closed, as well as border crossings, generating the rise of irregular roads.

Even before assuming the government, Petro had already sent a delegation to Venezuela to advance in the process of normalizing not only diplomatic relations, but also commercial ones.

– ‘Historical brotherhood’ –

Plasencia was foreign minister between August 2021 and May 2022 and ambassador to China between 2019 and 2021.

“I assume with great honor this responsibility entrusted by President Nicolás Maduro.

Bolivarian peace diplomacy will be the solid foundation to strengthen the historical brotherhood of the same people,” the designated ambassador wrote on Twitter.

Benedetti, 54, is for his part one of the first traditional politicians to join Petro’s presidential aspiration, after having reached the Senate in 2006 as part of a party founded by Uribe.

“No imaginary line will separate us as brothers again,” the former parliamentarian wrote on his Twitter account after the announcement.

He will assume a position that had been vacant since 2017, when then-president Juan Manuel Santos called his predecessor Ricardo Lozano for consultations.

Maduro also announced that he will form a “special team on Colombia” led by the vice president, Delcy Rodriguez. “It is a very serious plan for the programmed, progressive opening of the entire border, the opening to trade, to investment, to the win-win monetary movement with the people of Colombia and the people of the border.”

For now, there is no scheduled date to open the binational crossings, closed for vehicles since 2015 and partially open for pedestrians since the end of last year. A meeting between the two presidents is not scheduled either.

– Military relations –

The border will be the protagonist in the complex common agenda, which covers issues such as migration, trade and security in an area with the presence of guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug traffickers.

The migration issue is crucial, when thousands of people cross the border every day.

Colombia hosts two of the six million Venezuelans who have migrated due to the crisis in their country, who received permits to work and access public services.

On the other hand, normalization would boost commercial exchange, which was close to 7.2 billion dollars in 2008, but collapsed with the partial closure of the border in 2015 and total in 2019.

The Colombian-Venezuelan Chamber It handles projections of 800 million to 1,200 million dollars in 2022, after last year the figure was around 400 million.

However, the area is the scene of clashes between armed groups and public forces, amid complaints by Duque against Maduro for giving shelter to FARC dissidents, ELN guerrillas and drug traffickers. The socialist leader denies this, and repeatedly accused the former president of sending paramilitaries to destabilize Venezuela.

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Two days ago, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino announced that he would establish contact with his Colombian counterpart to “reestablish” military relations.