Nicolás Maduro, during a meeting with the new Colombian ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, in Caracas, on August 29, 2022. YURI CORTEZ (AFP)
“Whoever sees it,” Nicolás Maduro said as he showed everyone present a golden ring with a precious stone embedded. he becomes a chavista and a castrocommunist.
The president of Venezuela jokingly received on Monday the new Colombian ambassador, Armando Benedetti, in charge of reestablishing relations between two countries that had not spoken to each other for three years. He was dressed in white from head to toe. The visitor, dressed in a suit, presented the host with a hat, and the latter returned a picture of Simón Bolívar. The coming to power of Gustavo Petro has opened a new era between Colombia and Venezuela. Benedetti stressed, with the same conciliatory spirit, that the news of his twinning should be a party and a carnival, after the little cold war they have been involved in.
The relaxed tone, however, is not going to precipitate the roadmap that has been imposed to return to normality. “It must be done in an orderly manner,” Maduro said. Colombia intends to open the border as soon as possible, closed intermittently since 2015. To do this, it proposes using a biometric identification system to control the passage of people. Chavismo is more suspicious and prefers to do it progressively. Maduro offers, in exchange, to hold a meeting of border governors on both sides with the presence of the foreign ministers. Petro must now give his approval.
There are many pending issues on the table. Like security on the border, where drug cartels and Colombian guerrilla groups operate. Or the peace process with the ELN guerrillas, in which Petro does not want to involve Chavismo, but in which Venezuela will surely want to have a voice. Even the migration issue, after Colombia received 2.5 million Venezuelan refugees. And even the future of Monómeros, a Venezuelan company based in Colombia that produces a third of its fertilizers for agriculture. “If it is not done well, it will be a failure,” Maduro repeated to Benedetti, who was accompanied by his partner, Adelina Guerrero. And he added, remembering the estrangement between the two: “It never should have happened. If there are two similar peoples and brothers, it is us”.
Hugo Chávez’s successor, accompanied by the first lady Cilia Flores, expressed his concern about drug trafficking, smuggling, tariffs on the border and the guerrillas. Gasoline smuggling, which also seems to concern the Petro government, would like to control it by opening a gas station with Venezuelan prices on the Colombian side, as in the past it was proposed to former President Juan Manuel Santos. The security issue is much more delicate. In recent months, four historical Colombian guerrillas have been assassinated in the strip, without the reason for their deaths being fully clarified for the time being. The theory held by Colombian security sources is that a team of mercenaries performs surgical operations in this area in which there is hardly any control of any State —be it Colombia or Venezuela— to collect the millionaire rewards that the United States offers for their heads. That territory is considered a shaded area, a hornet’s nest.
Maduro has taken the hand that Petro has extended to him, but has made it clear that he works according to his times and his logic, without external pressure. The president has lived years of international isolation due to his repressive policies and despite that he has endured in power. Time plays in his favor. Not even the entire battery of US sanctions has managed to move his chair. Joe Biden is now exploring the diplomatic route, as does Petro himself. The general opinion among the rulers now in charge is that Venezuela needs a negotiated solution to its institutional crisis, where the opposition can have real options to gain access to the institutions. It’s not going to be easy. Maduro often recalls that he is annoyed when other countries interfere in his internal affairs, and with Colombia he is not going to make an exception.
The meeting gave to remember good times. Maduro recalled when he had a fluid relationship with Santos and assured that they called each other almost daily. Later, in his view, everything was broken by the interference of the United States. Now, he added, I would like to have that kind of relationship with Petro. Benedetti, who listened attentively, will be the intermediary. They were face to face with two new partners who were received with joy, but they want to do things little by little.
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