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Key Binational Bridge Open as Colombia, Venezuela Ties Warm

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BUCARMANGA, Colombia – Colombia and Venezuela on Sunday opened a key bridge connecting the countries that had been closed for nearly seven years amid political tensions, ushering in a new era of improved relations under Colombia’s new leftist president.

The delegation, led by Colombian Trade Minister German Umana and Venezuelan Tachira State Governor Freddy Bernal, met in the middle of the “Tienditas” bridge for an opening ceremony with balloons in the colors of each country’s flag.

Construction of the bridge connecting Tachira and the Colombian state of Norte de Santander was completed in 2016, but it was never inaugurated due to the political crisis between the South American countries. The bridge, which cost more than $32 million to build, was designed to ease traffic and facilitate trade at two other bi-national bridges in the area.

In 2019, Venezuelan socialist President Nicolas Maduro ordered more than a dozen cargo containers placed on the bridge to symbolically block it in protest of opposition efforts to bring humanitarian aid from Colombia to Venezuela.

“In political terms, ‘Tinditas’ is a symbol of the resumption of dialogue between the two countries,” said Ronal Rodriguez, a researcher at the Venezuela Observatory at Colombia’s Universidad del Rosario.

Diplomatic and trade relations with Venezuela were restored in September after the inauguration of Gustavo Petro – a former guerrilla – as president of Colombia. “Tienditas” were the last remaining bridges connecting the countries along the reopened 2,200-kilometer (1,367-mi) border.

Petro’s predecessor, Ivan Duque (2018–2022), called Maduro a “dictator” and made Colombia one of 50 countries to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president, alleging that Maduro’s re-election was fraudulent.

Pedro Benitez, a political analyst and professor at Venezuela’s Central University, told The Associated Press that the first face-to-face meeting between Petro and Maduro in November was a key symbol of the restoration of relations.

Benitez said re-establishing trade relations between the neighbors has so far been “very bumpy” because Colombian goods have been too expensive due to “non-institutional barriers attributed to Venezuelan officials”.

Resumption of commercial relations began in September with the opening of traffic across the Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Paula Santander bridges. From then until November, 385 trucks passed over the bridges, most of them carrying goods such as medical supplies, fiber optics, textiles, toilet paper and cardboard from Colombia to Venezuela. Coiled steel, motors and pipes were transported from Venezuela to Colombia.

Between January and October 2022, total trade between the two countries reached $512 million, up from $394 million in all of 2021, but still a far cry from the $7 billion in bilateral trade seen in 2008.

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