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Venezuela-Colombia border region hopes reopening nears

The trucking company owned by Alfredo Rosales and his brother is busy, with some 50 trucks constantly on the move, carrying about one million tons of coal, cement, flour and other commodities each year. I was there. Venezuela and Colombia.

Their activity came to an abrupt halt in 2015. Venezuela's socialist government, led by President Nicolas Maduro, has closed border crossings with neighboring countries after years of strained relations with Colombia's conservative government.

FILE - Men wait to unload a truck near the border with Venezuela, in Cucuta, Colombia, Aug. 5, 2022. The border will reopen after Colombia's new president is sworn-in Aug. 7.
File - unload truck near border with Venezuela men waiting. August 5, 2022 in Cucuta, Colombia. The border will reopen after Colombia's new president takes his oath of office on August 7.

"We had no place to go to work when they closed the borders. … It hurt us badly," Rosales said Thursday. , overlooking the family's quiet five-acre truck warehouse in San Juan de Colon, a community in western Venezuela on a plateau with views of lush mountains. They currently have only a handful of trucks. The rest were sold and some were scrapped.

But now that leftist Gustavo Petro took office on Sunday as president of Colombia and promised to normalize relations with Maduro, optimism is beginning to creep into the border region. Colombia's incoming foreign minister and Venezuela's foreign minister announced in late July that their borders would gradually reopen after the two countries restored diplomatic ties.

"This is what remains. I hope to begin work," said Rosales.

Despite these hopes, business owners and residents in the region know that meaningful cross-border vehicular activity will not resume overnight. Venezuela's economic hardship has only worsened since border commerce was closed, with more than 6 million people fleeing mostly Latin America and the Caribbean in search of a better life, and about 1.8 million more. People are immigrating to Colombia.

FILE - Containers block the Tienditas International Bridge, seen from Cucuta, Colombia, which connects with Tienditas, Venezuela, Aug. 5, 2022.
File - Containers seen from Cucuta, Colombia at Tienditas International

Colombia and Venezuela share a border of about 2,700 kilometers (1,370 miles). Bandits, drug traffickers, paramilitaries and guerrillas use the remote and desolate landscape to operate, but were unable to stop the pre-shutdown trade.

And goods continue to enter Venezuela illegally, traversing dirt roads manned by armed groups and others with the permission of officials on both sides of the border. there is Similarly, illegal imports also enter Colombia, but on a smaller scale.

On Saturday, the men loaded carts, bicycles, and motorcycles with large quantities of soft drinks, bananas, cooking oil, specialty paper, scrap metal, and other commodities and drove them down the rain-muddy illegal roads.

But sanctioned trade flows at a much higher rate.

Although the border is long, the official border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia are all but two concentrated in a 75-kilometre (45-mile) stretch, and before the closure the two border crossings handled 60% of the commercial activities of neighbor. The country's northernmost bridge is about 330 miles away, and Venezuela still allowed some cargo to cross it.

"Expectations are very positive and we have been waiting for a situation like this for a long time," said Luis Lucian, president of the Venezuelan-Colombian Chamber of Economic Integration. The pharmaceutical and personal hygiene sectors will be among the first to benefit from the reopening. "I see it as a new chapter to be written between Venezuela and Colombia." He said he was interested. The group had about 180 members in the late 2000s and is now about half that size.

Food, cleaning products, auto parts, chemicals and a myriad of other commodities once he passed between the two countries. Even in the early days of Venezuela's socialist government, business was strong and the country's petrodollar allowed companies to import all sorts of things. I was nervous when I couldn't make payments and lost access to credit lines.

According to the Venezuela-based Chamber of Commerce, in 2014 he reached $2.4 billion in business transactions, which fell to about $406 million last year, of which $331 million was in Colombia. It was imported from The group estimates that activity could reach $800 million this year if borders remain closed, but could go as high as $1.20 once intersections are opened to vehicles. billion dollars.

The Venezuelan government estimates he could exceed $4 billion in commercial transactions within a year of the border being fully reopened.

FILE - The Simon Bolivar International Bridge, Aug. 5, 2022. The border has been closed for years by the Venezuelan government, and will reopen after diplomatic ties are restored.
File - Simon Bolivar International Bridge, 5 August 2022 . The border has been closed by the Venezuelan government for years and is expected to reopen after diplomatic relations are restored.

"It will create jobs, it will create wealth, it will create the potential to produce, it will conduct commerce," said Jesús Faria. Chairman of the Permanent Committee on Economy, Finance and Social Development of the Venezuelan National Assembly.

Petro has expressed his willingness to improve relations with Venezuela, unlike outgoing President Yvan Duque. After Maduro's re-election in 2018, Duque, along with dozens of other countries, no longer recognized him as Venezuela's legitimate leader. Duque backed the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the United States and the European Union and repeatedly accused Maduro of protecting Colombian rebels.

But Trailer has many ties to repair before he can resume movement of trucks, tankers and other heavy vehicles between the two countries.

On the Venezuelan side, roads leading to the border are dilapidated and bridges are not maintained. One span can even sway when a pedestrian pushes a particularly heavy load on the trolley. The bridge, which was not opened before its closure, is still blocked by a dozen shipping containers and cement barricades.

Venezuelan truck drivers do not have permits and have stopped paying as their business dwindles. Colombian counterparts want security guarantees. Venezuelan business owners hope they can somehow arrange financing as banks have stopped providing loans due to the country's runaway inflation and other economic problems.

Reopening trade Big companies aren't the only ones looking to the future. Self-employed and small business owners want normal vehicular traffic to resume across borders.

FILE - Alejandra Gomez with her children in tow as they cross the Simon Bolivar International Bridge between San Antonio, Venezuela and Cucuta, Colombia, Aug. 5, 2022.
File - Children Crossing the Simon River and Alejandra Gomez 2022 Bolivar International Bridge connecting San Antonio, Venezuela and Cucuta, Colombia on August 5.

Among them is Janet Delgado, who sells clothes in Venezuela that she bought in Colombia. , she travels on foot about twice a week.

When I'm shopping for just a few items of clothing, I use the grocery store's foldable cart. However, like many other merchants, she crosses the border through one of her illegal roads when she needs to bring in a large amount of luggage. There, the price to travel between countries is cheaper than the bribe she has to pay to bring her clothes home. official intersection.

"It would be helpful if they stopped charging us," she said, referring to her bribes. “I have two bags and they think one is a millionaire. but others have more."