Colombia and Venezuela: What Are the Non-economic Benefits of Opening The Border?
At LatinAmerican Post we analyze the social and political opportunities that the opening of the Colombia-Venezuela border brings.
LatinAmerican Post | Christopher Ramírez Hernández
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Leer en español: Colombia y Venezuela: ¿cuáles son los beneficios no económicos de la apertura en la frontera?
On September 26, the governments of Colombia and Venezuela decided to reopen the border of more than 2,200 km that both countries share.
This news, considered one of the first major changes of the progressive government of Colombian President Gustavo Petro, came after seven years in which the border between the two nations showed intermittent and permanent closures.
“Both the people of Táchira and the people of Norte de Santander are going to have a wonderful reunion from the point of view of the transit of the young people who have been able to go to their education two and three months ago, like the large flows of people who now are crossing through bridges instead of illegal trails” explained the Minister of Commerce, Germán Umaña.
Of course, as the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) said, exports between the two countries will be one of the items that will benefit most from the opening of the border.
According to these institutions, during the first semester of 2022, a cap of 329.5 million dollars was reached in negotiations between Colombia and Venezuela, while with the opening, according to the president of the Colombo-Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce, María Luisa Chiappe, there are estimates of more than 800 and 1,200 million dollars at the end of the second half of the year.
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The human benefit of opening the border
Now, beyond the obvious economic benefits that this diplomatic initiative will bring in a short time, the truth is that citizens, on both sides of the border, will also see improvements in their social and human living conditions.
This was detailed by President Gustavo Petro, weeks before the opening: “At this time, the foreign minister (Álvaro Leyva) has made contacts with the other government (of Venezuela) to process the opening of the border. Commercial, cultural, social, family, and even military relations of all kinds must be re-established.
An example of this is what Ronal Rodríguez, a researcher at the Venezuelan Observatory of the Universidad del Rosario, who explained in a conversation with the economic magazine Forbes, that there are more than 4,700 children who live on the Venezuelan side, but whose education is imparted in Colombian territory.
According to the expert, these children, as well as their parents, will be able to improve their quality of life, since they will not have to cross the border on foot but could use the public transport that would move between the two countries.
Another issue of great importance in Colombian-Venezuelan relations is, of course, security and the peace intentions that are to be achieved on the border. According to Ricardo Lozano Forero, who was the last Colombian ambassador to Venezuela before the definitive severing of diplomatic ties in 2018, the border closure began with a small number of three armed groups in the area, "and now there are 16."
Thinking about this, one of the first initiatives that began to be forged on the diplomatic agenda was the resumption of bilateral relations in military matters. The idea, as explained by the Colombian Minister of Defense, Iván Velásquez Gómez, and his Venezuelan counterpart, General Vladimir Padrino López, is to be able to reach terms of brotherhood between the Armed Forces of each of these countries.
This was agreed upon on September 24, at a meeting that took place in the state of Táchira, on the Venezuelan side of the border. For Velásquez, this decision "will mark the beginning of relations between the Ministries of Defense and the Armed Forces, of great benefit to the region and to the entire binational border."
In this way, joint plans can now be developed to try to stop and, if possible, put an end to the criminal gangs that move through the border jungles , such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), the dissidents of the extinct FARC or other criminal bands that have tormented the civil community of both territories.
Finally, it is important to remember that with the opening of the border there is also talk of the establishment of new processes that can be developed from the consulates of each nation. Thus, apart from benefits such as the validation of academic programs completed in these countries , there is an issue of great importance that, after several years, may be dealt with again: the repatriation of Venezuelan children in Colombia.
According to the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare (ICBF), there are more than 1,200 children and adolescents of Venezuelan nationality, who unfortunately do not have close adults to whom the Colombian State can entrust their custody, the only relatives being people who currently reside in Venezuela.
"It is urgent to find an institutional solution so that minors do not remain indefinitely in foster homes or protection institutions and the corresponding family reunification can be advanced, previously verifying that the appropriate conditions are met in terms of children's rights," Colombian Ombudsman Carlos Camargo said on September 28 after a visit to the border.
In fact, for Camargo it is essential that this issue reaches the urgent points of the bilateral agenda between Colombia and Venezuela, even requesting that this situation be addressed from the beginning above any other problem. For the Colombian official, the rights of children and adolescents prevail over the rights of others; hence this state of emergency.
"Children and adolescents must be the priority in reestablishing relations between Colombia and Venezuela," concluded Camargo.