CARACAS – Top Venezuelan and Colombian officials took further steps to consolidate recently re-established bilateral relations and increase cooperation in the areas of trade, security and border development.
“A very productive day,” Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said after several bilateral working commissions were formed on Friday, echoing similar remarks by Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro.
Both ministers said they were satisfied with the steps taken Friday, 10 days after Venezuelan head of state Hugo Chavez and newly inaugurated Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met in Santa Marta, Colombia to re-launch ties that Venezuela had completely severed on July 22.
Venezuela broke off bilateral relations after Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, accused the neighboring country’s leftist government of tolerating the presence of guerrilla camps in its territory.
Santos, a conservative and former defense minister under Uribe, made restoration of ties with leftist-led Venezuela his top priority after taking office on Aug. 7.
In announcing the resumption of full relations, Santos said Aug. 10 in Santa Marta that he had received assurances from Chavez’s government that it will not tolerate the presence in Venezuela of members of illegal armed groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has fought a decades-long struggle against a succession of Colombian administrations.
Referring to debt-repayment demands by Colombian businesses, Maduro said the Venezuelan government had approved the immediate payment of $200 million to Colombian exporters.
A bi-national commission has been created to analyze the origin of the remaining $600 million that Colombian exporters say they are owed to ensure there are no irregularities, such as “overbilling.”
Holguin said that commission should complete its work by Sept. 10.
Maduro also said a working group had been created to combat contraband along the border because we want “healthy and transparent” trade relations.
He said another commission will “lay the foundations” for a new bilateral economic and trade accord that will govern relations beginning April 2011, when the current agreement expires.
A third commission will work to spur social development in the border region by promoting advances in education, health and culture.
Maduro also said that the nations’ defense ministers talked “very frankly about a border with problems of drug trafficking and different types of criminal gangs and illegal armed groups.”
He said a “permanent communication mechanism” has been established and that a Colombian military delegation will meet with the Venezuelan armed forces’ top brass in a few weeks “to expand mutual trust.”
Holguin said in that regard that “the mechanism of direct coordination between them will be very positive for (bilateral) cooperation.”
The Colombian foreign minister also met for three hours with Chavez at the Miraflores presidential palace.
In a brief statement to reporters after the meeting, Chavez said he had talked about “all the issues that are on the table and others ones as well” with Holguin.