Venezuela, Colombia to reopen land borders, skies

BOGOTA (AFP): Venezuela and Colombia said Friday they will reopen their shared land border later this month and resume commercial flights after renewing diplomatic ties severed in 2019.

The countries reestablished formal ties on August 29 under the leadership of Venezuela’s socialist president Nicolas Maduro and Colombia’s new leftist leader, Gustavo Petro.

Both assigned ambassadors to each other’s countries, and announced they also wanted to restore military cooperation.

Venezuela severed ties with its neighbor in 2019 after Colombia under right-wing former president Ivan Duque — along with dozens of other countries — rejected Maduro’s 2018 re-election and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader instead.

Embassies and consulates in both countries were closed, and flights between the neighbors grounded.

An exodus of international airlines from Venezuela began already in 2014 when oil prices — then the source of 96 percent of foreign exchange — began to collapse, causing the government to fall into debt of some $3.8 billion to air companies, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

In 2017, Avianca, which covered more than half of Caracas-Bogota flights, suspended operations to and from Venezuela.

The countries’ shared 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) land border — the scene of clashes between armed and criminal groups —  was closed from 2019, and reopened in October last year but to pedestrians only.

On Friday, Maduro tweeted that on September 26, “we will jointly open the borders between Venezuela and Colombia. In addition, we will resume flights between Caracas-Bogota and Valencia-Bogota.”

Petro shared the same information on Twitter, adding: “We confirm the government’s commitment to re-establish fraternal relations.”

The countries hope to reinvigorate trade which stood at $7.2 billion in 2008, but has collapsed since then.