Venezuela is starting to see some advantages of renewed ties with Colombia

Colombian President Gustavo Petro (left) and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro shake hands during a meeting at the Tienditas International Bridge in Quito, Colombia, on February 16.

Up to date April 4, 2023 at 8:56 am. ET

SAN ANTONIO DEL TCHIRA, Venezuela In a warehouse on this Venezuelan border city, customs officers examine tractor trailers loaded with imports from neighboring Colombia. It is quite easy cargo detergent, smoke, packing containers of mayonnaise, however warehouse proprietor Emilio Gutirrez is worked up.

The warehouse has been closed for seven years amid diplomatic disputes between Colombia and Venezuela which have led to frequent border closures. As freight visitors declined, a cash-strapped Gutirrez joined an exodus of two.5 million Venezuelans who settled in Colombia.

Final 12 months, nevertheless, Colombia started mending fences with Venezuela’s authoritarian authorities. Border crossings reopened and Gutirrez, who returned to San Antonio del Tchira in February, reopened his enterprise.

“I made a decision to go all in,” says Gutirrez. “I believe we’ll as soon as once more turn out to be one of many busiest border crossings in Latin America.”

Neighbors with rocky relationships

Certainly, the border right here was a pulsating industrial hub, with lengthy queues of vehicles ready to clear customs. At its peak in 2007, commerce between Colombia and Venezuela exceeded $7 billion, in line with Colombia’s commerce ministry.

However diplomatic and commerce relations have collapsed as Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, has destroyed the nation’s democracy. His regime attacked protesters, jailed dissidents, silenced the press and held rigged elections.

Following the Trump administration’s lead in 2019, Colombia and about 50 different nations acknowledged opposition chief Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s official head of state. The marketing campaign for regime change included an enormous “Reside Support”-style open-air live performance held on the border, the place main Latin American bands rocked the group and referred to as for Maduro to step down.

However Maduro remained in energy whereas Venezuelan troops used transport containers to dam border bridges. This compelled individuals to cross the border on smuggling routes, the place they had been typically kidnapped, robbed or raped by criminals. Official commerce shrunk to about $300 million in 2021, though smuggling nonetheless moved forwards and backwards.

“The drop in commerce was simply extraordinary,” says Luis Fernando Meja, director of Fedesarrollo, an financial suppose tank in Colombia’s capital, Bogo. “Now, Venezuela does not even rank amongst Colombia’s prime 20 buying and selling companions.”

Hundreds of individuals had been thrown out of labor, says Sandra Guzmn, who runs a customs brokerage in Ccuta, a Colombian metropolis simply throughout the border from San Antonio del Tchira. There was 68 such companies in Ccuta to deal with the fixed move of imports and exports, however now there are solely 5.

“Every little thing is closed,” he says.

Colombia’s new left-wing chief has reconnected

That is why Guzmn helps the open-door coverage of Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s leftist president elected final 12 months. Ignoring the abuses of the Maduro authorities, Petro rapidly started to revive diplomatic relations and start commerce.

“We might have an unsightly dance associate,” Guzmán says, referring to Maduro, “however we nonetheless have to bounce with him.”

Ferley Ospina/Bloomberg by way of Getty Photos


Bloomberg by way of Getty Photos

Colombian President Gustavo Petro (left) and his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro shake palms throughout a gathering on the Tienditas Worldwide Bridge in Quito, Colombia, on February 16.

Different nations have reached the identical conclusion. Final 12 months, america introduced it was easing a few of the harsh oil sanctions it imposed on Venezuela in 2019, whereas the European Union introduced in 2021 that it might now acknowledge Guaid because the nation’s head of state. In December, the Venezuelan opposition eliminated Guaid from that position.

For Colombia, repairing the fences might assist enhance the economic system, reactivate commerce and enhance safety alongside its practically 1,400-mile border with Venezuela, components of that are managed by drug cartels and rebels.

“There was a giant enhance in smuggling and human trafficking when the borders had been closed,” Luis Felipe Quintero, Colombia’s deputy commerce minister, informed NPR. In renewing ties with Venezuela “we have now humanitarian targets. We wish to create jobs and struggle poverty.”

Venezuela’s overseas commerce ministry didn’t reply to NPR’s requests for remark. Nonetheless, after a March 16 assembly in Caracas, Maduro and Petro signed a bilateral commerce settlement and issued a press release calling for “the promotion of integration, growth and financial stability” between the 2 nations.

Quintero predicted that commerce with Venezuela might attain $4 billion by the tip of Petro’s presidency in 2026.

For now, nevertheless, there’s solely a trickle.

The shrinking of Venezuela’s exports

On account of corruption, mismanagement and sanctions, Venezuela’s economic system shrank by about 75% between 2014 and 2021, leaving it too poor to import a lot. As well as, hundreds of Venezuelan companies have gone bankrupt, so aside from oil, there’s not a lot that it exports.

Venezuela’s forex, the bolvar, is deeply undervalued, whereas US sanctions have deterred some Colombian exporters from transactions with state-owned firms in Venezuela or its central financial institution. As a substitute, Colombian firms obtain funds in US {dollars} by means of third nations reminiscent of Panama, which will increase transaction prices. One other downside is that inside Venezuela, Nationwide Guard troops at freeway checkpoints typically strain truckers for cost.

The lack of cross-border trade is evident on the main bridge between Colombia and Venezuela, where traffic is minimal.

/ John Otis for NPR


John Otis for NPR

The dearth of cross-border commerce is obvious on the primary bridge between Colombia and Venezuela, the place visitors is minimal.

“There are one thing like 14 checkpoints the place they ask for bribes,” says Javier Daz, president of ANALDEX, Colombia’s largest overseas commerce affiliation. “That is why some firms resolve to not export to Venezuela.”

The dearth of commerce is obvious on the primary bridge between Colombia and Venezuela. Constructed by each nations, the large six-lane construction was accomplished in 2016 and was designed to be the primary freight hub between the 2 nations. For years it remained empty because of border disputes till it lastly opened in January. Nonetheless, throughout a half-hour go to to the bridge, visitors solely included a couple of motorbikes and taxis.

Again on the warehouse on the Venezuelan aspect, Gutirrez acknowledges it is sluggish, however says he is blissful to be again house and working his enterprise even when it is solely a fraction of the scale it as soon as was.

“We was closed 24 hours a day,” he says. “Nicely, think about the optimism I really feel now. Simply take a look at the vehicles on the market. Which means we’re rising.”

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see extra, go to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *