Colombia, Venezuela to reopen long-shut border crossings

AUGUST 11, 2016 8:29 PM

Venezuela and Colombia agreed to open their 1,274-mile common border to foot-traffic starting Saturday in what both sides described as the first stage in restoring full commercial ties.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met in the Venezuelan town of Puerto Ordaz Thursday to hammer out the details of the opening.

Both leaders said they hoped that this tentative first step would lead to a full opening, including cargo and passenger vehicles.

Maduro unilaterally shut down border crossings almost a year ago, as he blamed Colombia for fueling violence and shortages in his nation. But the closure only seemed to exacerbate Venezuela’s economic problems, and in recent weeks — during brief border openings — more than 100,000 Venezuelans swarmed into Colombian border towns looking for food and medicine.

In what seemed to be a reference to Venezuela’s scarcity, Maduro said his country could benefit from “Colombia’s immense productive capacity.”

But he said the opening would be “orderly, coordinated and gradual.” Initially, five border crossings will be open during the day.

Santos said there were still many issues to resolve, including the fight against counterfeit medicine that he said was hurting both sides of the border. He also said the nations were considering opening up gasoline stations in Colombian border towns that would be supplied by Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA oil company.

Venezuela heavily subsidizes its gasoline, making it some of the world’s cheapest. And fuel smuggling into Colombia has been a constant headache for both nations.

“We want a new beginning,” Maduro said during the announcement. “We want a border of peace, a new border.”

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