The left comes to power in Colombia for the first time and the president elect, Gustavo Petrohas said that he will restore relations with the Venezuela of the Chavista regime Nicholas Maduro after three years of rupture and serious cross accusations between Caracas and Bogotá.
What will the imminent reactivation of bilateral relations bring after Petro’s electoral victory on Sunday over Rodolfo Hernández?
Ideology or pragmatism?
Petro, who assumes the presidency on August 7, awakens ghosts among many Venezuelans who associate him with Chavismo, although the former guerrilla distanced himself from the illegitimate Maduro regime during the electoral campaign, even calling it a “dictatorship.”
Venezuela, which has frequently accused the outgoing president of Colombia, Iván Duque, of plans for a coup d’état and even of assassination against Maduro, congratulated the leftist leader’s victory in a statement and expressed “the strongest will to work on the construction of a renewed stage of integral relations”.
Caracas broke relations with Bogotá in 2019 after Duque recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela, who is now in limbo. It has been the worst moment between these neighbors, who share a porous border of more than 2,200 km and have had ups and downs, especially in the last 20 years with the entry on the scene of Hugo Chávez and Álvaro Uribe.
There are no consulates or direct flights and the border remained closed between 2019 and October 2021, which collapsed bilateral trade.
“Diplomatic relations cannot depend on or focus on simple ideological cronyism,” said historian Ángel Lombardi, a professor at the University of Zulia (LUZ), a region bordering Colombia. “If good sense prevails, they will have a relationship based on pragmatism and common interest.”
“New times are on the horizon,” Maduro celebrated on Twitter.
“It radically changes the relationship with Venezuela with the sole fact that the oligarchy stops governing” in Colombia, said this Monday Diosdado Cabello, number two of Chavismo.
Migration, key issue
Migration, border security and trade are high on the agenda.
The migration issue is crucial, when thousands of people cross the border every day.
Colombia welcomes two of the six million Venezuelans who have migrated due to the crisis in their country, whom Duque has regularized so that they can work and access public services.
“The migrant population, today mainly Venezuelans, will receive dignified and respectful treatment of human rights,” Petro promised in his government plan.
The normalization of relations would, on the other hand, boost commercial exchange, which was close to US$7.2 billion in 2008, but collapsed with the partial closure of the border in 2015 and total closure in 2019.
The Colombian-Venezuelan Chamber manages projections of US$800 million to US$1.2 billion in 2022, after last year the figure was around US$400 million.
“A new curtain is raised,” said Wladimir Tovar, leader of the Venezuelan employers’ organization Fedecamaras in the border state of Táchira. “With Colombia there was always a close relationship.”
However, the area is the scene of clashes between armed groups and public forces, amid complaints from Bogotá that Maduro harbors FARC dissidents, ELN guerrillas and drug traffickers. The socialist president denies this, and in turn accuses Duque of sending paramilitaries to destabilize Venezuela.
Duque was leading the diplomatic pressure in the region to remove Maduro from power, a cause that has been losing supporters. Sunday’s electoral result joins the return of the left to Argentina and most likely to Brazil in the coming months.
The situation leaves Guaidó in a bad position, increasingly weakened, although he retains the support of Washington.
Colombia had been one of the main destinations for allies of Guaidó who went into exile due to criminal proceedings or investigations against him in Venezuela, such as his old “foreign minister”, Julio Borges.
However, Jesús Esparza Bracho, professor of Law at the Rafael Urdaneta University in Maracaibo (Zulia, west), says that the fact that Maduro and Petro are on the left does not imply an automatic alliance.
“Maduro is more aligned with less democratic regimes and that is not necessarily Petro’s line,” commented the expert, who thinks that the next Colombian ruler can be a “catalyst” in the process of political negotiations between Maduro and the opposition, paralyzed since last october.
“Instability in Venezuela is a threat to Petro, as Colombian instability was for Venezuela for many years.”