SANTA MARTA, Colombia – The presidents of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, met on Tuesday and announced that they would reestablish bilateral diplomatic relations frozen for more than a year and ultimately broken by Caracas on July 22.
“We have decided that the countries (will) reestablish their diplomatic relations and relaunch a roadmap so that all aspects of the relationship may progress, advance and deepen,” said Santos at the end of his meeting with Chavez.
The Colombian leader also said that Chavez assured him that “he will not allow the presence of armed groups outside the law in his territory.”
Chavez, too, confirmed that his government does not “support, permit, nor will it permit, the presence of guerrillas, or of drug trafficking, or terrorism, in Venezuelan territory.”
Santos went on to say that “this is very important for us, so that those relations maintain themselves on a firm basis.”
It is an “important moment for Colombia and for relations between Colombian and Venezuela. I greatly celebrate this meeting today with President Chavez, two people who have had ... such frequent differences, who decide to turn the page and think about the future of our countries and our peoples,” said the Colombian leader.
He also said that, starting on Tuesday, the two nations will begin “a frank, direct, sincere dialogue, as all good relations must be.”
He also added that Bogota and Caracas have taken a “big step,” referring to “the reestablishment of confidence that is also one of the basic conditions of any relationship.”
Santos said that five working committees would be created to deal with matters including the payment of debt and resumption of trade relations, as well as drafting an economic cooperation accord, developing social investment in the border zone, jointly developing infrastructure and protecting border security.
These mechanisms are designed to “seek to prevent the presence and activities of armed groups outside the law” and to “increase the presence of both states in the border zone.”
Meanwhile, the office of the president of the Colombian congress, Armando Benedetti, announced that, with the permission of the administration, he will travel to Caracas next Saturday to “help” in the process of fully reestablishing diplomatic and commercial relations.
The two presidents met on Tuesday as part of a mutual commitment to resume diplomatic relations between the two neighboring countries as soon as possible.
Santos and Chavez began their meeting in a cordial atmosphere and with only one objective: reestablishing the links that Venezuela broke on July 22 – when Alvaro Uribe was still president of Colombia.
The site chosen for the get-together was the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, a spot full of symbolism because that was where South American liberator Simon Bolivar died in 1830.
The first to arrive was the Colombian president, who at the airport said that he was “very optimistic” about the meeting’s prospects.
“We are here, in this historic city and we’re going to an equally historic site to
find out if relations between the two brother countries, as Venezuela and Colombia are, can be reestablished on firm and durable bases,” Santos said.
The new Colombian leader, who has been in office for just three days, has set as a priority salvaging Bogota’s diplomatic and trade relationship with Venezuela, and that is why he pushed for the meeting with Chavez.
Shortly afterwards, Chavez arrived, and the first thing he did was go up to the new Colombian foreign minister, Maria Angela Holguin, to smilingly give her a bunch of red roses.
Dressed in a flamboyant jacket in the colors of the Venezuelan flag, Chavez then spoke some much-awaited words, saying that “we’re coming with the will foremost in our heart, with love foremost, to patiently begin to rebuild what was destroyed.”
“I come to verify my eternal love, after all the ups and downs, for Colombia. We want to build peace between ourselves, whatever it may cost ... (because) all our roads must lead toward peace,” said Chavez, in the words of Bolivar.
The Venezuelan leader then went to the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, which is now a museum, to meet with Santos, but he stopped on the way from the airport to greet residents of a poor neighborhood.
Finally, he was met by Santos and once again was accorded military honors before the two men began their meeting, at which Holguin and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro were also to take part.
Later, the general secretary of the Union of South American Nations, or Unasur, former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, the mediator of this diplomatic crisis, was scheduled to join them.
Chavez broke relations with Colombia after the Uribe administration used a special meeting of the Organization of American States Permanent Council to accuse Venezuela of harboring Colombian guerrillas.
But Venezuela had already frozen diplomatic and commercial ties with Colombia last year after Bogota signed a pact with Washington giving the U.S. Armed Forces access to seven military bases in Colombia.
Colombian business leaders expressed their satisfaction with Tuesday’s summit because since ties were frozen tens of thousands of jobs have been lost along the country’s border with Venezuela and exports to that country have fallen precipitously.
The numbers speak for themselves: compared to the almost $2.7 billion worth of goods Colombia exported to Venezuela in the first half of 2009, between January and June this year exports have totaled just $760,000 EFE