Looms expected to reopen in Venezuela, Colombia border areas

SAN JUAN DE COLONS, Venezuela (AP) — The freight company owned by Alfredo Rosales and his brothers was in hustle, with its 50 or so trucks carrying nearly 1 million tons of coal, cement, flour and other goods each year in constant commerce. Were. Between Venezuela and Colombia.

His work came to an abrupt halt in 2015, when the socialist government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stopped crossing the border with its neighbor after years of deteriorating relations with the conservative Colombian administration.

“When they closed the border, we had nowhere to go to work. … it seriously hurt us,” Rosales said Thursday, as he looked at the family’s quiet five-acre truck depot in the western Venezuelan community of San Juan de Colón, on a plateau with views of the lush mountains was. They have only a few trucks now, the rest are sold out, some for junk.

Yet optimism has begun to creep into the border region, with leftist Gustavo Petro being inaugurated Sunday as Colombia’s president, promising to normalize relations with Maduro. Colombia’s visiting foreign minister and his Venezuelan counterpart announced in late July that the border would gradually reopen once the two countries restored diplomatic ties.

“And this is what is expected to start working,” Rosales said.

Despite those hopes, business owners and residents of the area know that meaningful vehicle activity across the border will not resume overnight. Venezuela’s economic woes have only worsened in the years since border commerce was closed and more than 6 million people have left in search of a better life, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, with about 1.8 million emigrating to Colombia. .

Colombia and Venezuela share a border of approximately 1,370 miles (2,700 km). Bandits, drug smugglers, paramilitary groups and guerrillas take advantage of the remote and desolate landscape for operations, although this did not stop the trade before it was shut down.

And goods have continued to enter Venezuela illegally on dirt roads run by armed groups and others with the blessings of officials on both sides of the border. Similarly, illegal imports also enter Colombia, but on a smaller scale.

On Saturday, men carried soft drinks, bananas, cooking oil, specialty paper, scrap metal and other items on trains, bicycles, motorcycles and on their backs to turn them into mud from rain on an illegal road.

However, accepted trade will flow at a much higher rate.

Although the border is long, the two official border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia are centered on a 45-mile (75-kilometer) distance that handled 60% of commercial activity between the neighbors before the shutdown. The country’s northernmost bridge is about 330 miles away and Venezuela continues to allow some cargo to cross there.

“The expectations are very positive, and we have been waiting for a situation like this for so long,” said Luis Russo, president of the Venezuelan-Colombian Chamber of Economic Integration, which anticipates that agriculture, medicine and personal hygiene Be one of the first to benefit from the region’s reopening. “We see this as a new chapter that is about to be written between Venezuela and Colombia.”

The Russian said some Colombian companies have shown interest in joining the chamber as they consider whether to try to enter the Venezuelan market. The group had about 180 members in the late 2000s, but is now about half that.

Food, cleaning products, auto parts, chemicals and myriad other goods used to cross between the two countries. Commerce remained strong even in the early years of Venezuela’s socialist governments, when the country’s oil dollars allowed businesses to import all sorts of things. Those relationships became strained when Venezuela’s economic fallout left businesses unable to meet payments and access to credit.

According to the Venezuela-based chamber, commercial exchange that reached $2.4 billion in 2014 was reduced to about $406 million last year, of which $331 million was imported from Colombia. The group estimates that this year’s activity could reach $800 million if the border remains closed, but could go up to $1.2 billion if the crossing reopens to vehicles.

The Venezuelan government has estimated that commercial exchange could exceed $4 billion within a year of fully reopening.

“It’s going to create jobs, that’s going to create wealth, that’s going to create possibilities to produce, to do commercial exchanges,” said Jesus, chairman of the Permanent Commission of the Venezuelan National Assembly on Economy, Finance and Social Development. Faria said. ,

Petro, unlike outgoing President Ivan Duque, has expressed a desire to improve relations with Venezuela. Following Maduro’s re-election in 2018, Duque, along with dozens of other countries, stopped recognizing him as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Duque supported economic sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union on Venezuela and repeatedly accused Maduro of protecting some Colombian rebels.

More than just ties will have to be repaired before trailer trucks, tankers and other large vehicles can resume between the two countries.

On the Venezuelan side, the roads leading to the border are dilapidated and the bridges are not maintained. A span also vibrates when pedestrians place a particularly heavy load on the dolly carts. A bridge that did not open before it was closed is still blocked by more than a dozen shipping containers and cement barricades.

Venezuelan truck drivers lack permits that they stopped paying when business went down. Their counterparts in Colombia want security guarantees. Venezuelan business owners are hopeful that financing can be arranged, as banks have stopped lending due to the country’s runaway inflation and other economic problems.

It’s not just big companies that are expected to see renewed business. Self-employed and small business owners are expected to resume regular vehicle traffic across the border.

Among them is Janet Delgado, who sells clothes in Venezuela that she buys in Colombia, where she walks twice a week.

When she only goes to buy a few clothes, she uses a folding grocery store cart. But like many other merchants, if she needs to bring a large load, she crosses the border on one of the illegal roads, where going between countries costs less than the bribe she would pay to bring the clothes home. Will have to pay An official crossing.

“It would be helpful if they stop accusing us,” she said, referring to the bribe. “I bring two bags and they think one is a millionaire. (vehicle traffic) would be great for me and others. I bring some things, but others carry a lot.”

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