Colombia and Venezuela open key binational bridge as ties heat up

BUCARAMANGA, Colombia — Colombia and Venezuela on Sunday opened a key bridge linking countries that had been closed for nearly seven years amid political tensions, launching a new era of improved relations under Colombia’s new leftist president.

Delegations led by Colombian Trade Minister Germán Umaña and the Governor of the Venezuelan state of Tachira, Freddy Bernal, gathered in the middle of the “Tienditas” bridge for an opening ceremony with balloons in the colors of the flag of each country.

The construction of the bridge connecting Tachira and the Colombian state of Norte de Santander ended in 2016, but it was never inaugurated due to the political crisis between the South American countries. The bridge, which cost more than $32 million to build, was designed to relieve congestion on the region’s two other binational bridges and facilitate trade.

In 2019, Venezuelan socialist President Nicolás Maduro ordered that more than a dozen cargo containers be placed on the bridge to symbolically block it to protest opposition attempts to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela. from Colombia.

“In political terms, ‘Tienditas’ is the symbol of the resumption of dialogue between the two countries,” said Ronal Rodríguez, a researcher at the Venezuela Observatory at the Universidad del Rosario in Colombia.

Following the inauguration as president in Colombia of Gustavo Petro – a former guerrilla – diplomatic and trade relations with Venezuela were restored in September. “Tienditas” was the last bridge connecting the countries to be reopened along the 2,200 kilometer (1,367 mile) border.

Petro’s predecessor, Iván Duque (2018-2022), called Maduro a “dictator” and made Colombia one of 50 countries that recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, accusing Maduro’s re-election for being fraudulent.

Pedro Benítez, a political analyst and professor at the Central University of Venezuela, told The Associated Press that the key symbol of restoring relations was the first face-to-face meeting between Petro and Maduro in November.

Benitez said the restoration of trade relations between the neighbors so far has been “very bumpy” as incoming Colombian products have been very expensive due to “non-institutional obstacles attributed to Venezuelan officials”.

The resumption of commercial relations began with the activation of traffic on the Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander bridges in September. From there to November, 385 trucks crossed the bridges, most from Colombia to Venezuela carrying goods such as medical supplies, fiber optics, textiles, toilet paper and cardboard. Steel coils, motors and pipes were transported from Venezuela to Colombia.

Between January and October 2022, total trade between the two countries reached $512 million, an increase from $394 million for all of 2021, but still far from the $7 billion in bilateral trade seen in 2008. .


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