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Colombia’s new president courts Venezuelan tyrant

for century Colombia’s sixth-largest city, Cúcuta, has strong ties to Venezuela and is just half an hour’s drive away. It is the conduit for trade between the two countries, which peaked at $7.2 billion in 2008. $6 billion of this was Colombia’s exports, mainly food, livestock, cars and clothing. This is a textbook example of regional integration that Latin American politicians talk about more than they do. Politics killed it. First, Hugo Chávez, the populist Venezuelan leader who dislikes Colombia’s alliance with the US, sought other suppliers. Then in 2019, Chávez’s successor, dictator Nicolás Maduro, shut down after Colombia’s conservative President Ivan Duque recognized Juan Guaidó, speaker of the opposition-controlled Congress, as Venezuela’s legitimate president. closed borders and severed diplomatic relations.

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Now Gustavo Petro, the leftist who succeeded Mr Duque last month, has moved swiftly to restore ties. The new Colombian ambassador, Armando Benedetti, has been sent to Caracas. Mr Petro and Mr Maduro said the border would reopen later this month and direct flights between the two countries would resume.

Many Colombians welcome the return to normalcy across the border. Cúcuta’s local newspaper greeted it “with high hopes”. “We need to engage and negotiate on cross-border issues,” said Rodrigo Pardo, a former foreign minister. He added that even Mr. Duque did not anticipate the rupture to last three years, during which time Mr. Maduro became stronger and Mr. Guaido far weaker. Of the 60 countries that recognized Mr Guaido in early 2019 after Mr Maduro won the illiberal presidential election, only a handful still do so, though that includes the United States.

Two issues concerning the 2,200-kilometre (1,400-mile) border are particularly important. One is migration. Millions of Colombians live in Venezuela, many attracted by the oil boom of the 1960s and 70s. Colombia has become home to 2.5 million of the 6.8 million Venezuelans who have fled Maduro’s regime and the economic collapse caused by graft, incompetence and price controls. Columbia has always welcomed newcomers and given them permission. But tolerance is low as abjectly poor Venezuelans sleep rough in Colombian cities.

The second issue is security.these two elnVenezuela, which is used as a safe haven by terrorists, guerrillas and Colombian drug gangs, is clearly indulged by Mr Maduro’s brutal regime. Mr Petro declared “comprehensive peace” his government’s top priority.he means with eln And, it seems to be related to drug traffickers too.

A former Colombian official pointed out that these issues require careful approach and calm negotiations on how to manage the border. So far, this has not been the government’s way. Mr Benedetti rushed to meet a beaming Mr Maduro and other Venezuelan bigwigs. He referred to “the so-called exodus”, repeating Mr Maduro’s denials that it existed. He added that Colombia should start importing natural gas from Venezuela, using a pipeline between the two countries that opened in 2007. Regardless this was only used to export Colombian gas until Mr Maduro stopped it in 2015, and Mr Petro wanted to stop the hydrocarbons from being explored at home. The new ambassador defied the opposition, calling Mr Guaidó a “nobody”. On the plus side, Mr Petro rejected Venezuela’s demand to extradite political exiles to face Maduro’s brutal ideals of justice.

In his rapprochement with Venezuela, Mr Petro is riding a regional trend. Mr Duque’s approach is linked to a broader attempt led by Donald Trump’s administration to topple Mr Maduro’s regime with sweeping sanctions. It fails. Mr Maduro’s regime has rolled back some socialist policies, and Venezuela’s economy has seen a modest recovery. Its oil has renewed Western interest. Sanctions are still in place, but Joe Biden officials have held exploratory talks with Mr. Maduro. Mr Benedetti said he had briefed the Americans about his operation.

Leftist governments now ruling in Latin America are in favor of negotiating to press Mr Maduro to be more democratic, if they care. However, many Colombians do care. Mr Petro was mistrusted by some of them because of his past support for Chávez. If realism turns to appeasement, Mr Petro risks reviving those fears and losing his own public. While a trade revival would be welcome, he should be careful crossing the border.

Read more from our Latin America columnist Bello:
Questions surrounding shooting of Argentine vice president (September 8)
Central America Accelerates Transition to Authoritarianism (August 11)
Energy subsidies in Latin America are good politics, but bad policy (July 28)

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