Four trucks draped in Colombian and Venezuelan flags, and laden with medical equipment, rolled sheet metal and toilet paper crossed the international border between Colombia and Venezuela on Monday as both countries formally resumed trade. As the first convoy passed the customs controls along the Simón Bolívar international bridge at Cúcuta, President Petro presided over a ceremony to mark the normalization in commerce between the two countries, and border that began to see the first movement in goods after seven years.
The Colombian government delegation included Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva, Colombian Ambassador to Venezuela Armando Benedetti and Minister of Transport Guillermo Reyes.
According to President Petro, the objective with opening the Simón Bolívar bridge to recover up to US$2.6 billion in trade that moves across this border. “Today is a historic day for the region, for the country, for South America, and America in general,” highlighted Petro. “Our two economies have to integrate to improve the overall quality of life for everybody. I want the first beneficiaries to be those who live on both sides of this border; those who took risks on trails, women who walked at the mercy of gangs, criminals and fear of rape.”
As Petro personally welcomed the first convoy, his counterpart Nicolás Maduro was noticeably absent. The much-anticipated encounter of the communist regime leader shaking hands with Colombia’s first leftist president was a no show, despite confirmation from Miraflores that Maduro would attend the ceremony. The highest-ranking member of the Venezuelan government to attend the re-opening was the Governor of the state of Táchira, Freddy Bernal.
The border reopening came as tens of thousands of Colombians marched in the country’s largest cities to protest the leftist government’s US$5.7 billion tax reform and plans to overhaul the health and pension system. The marches were conducted peacefully and attended by right-wing politicians leading the opposition movement to Petro.
As anti-government protesters chanted “Out with Petro!” and filled Bogotá’s central Plaza de Bolívar, several pro-Petro sympathizers and members of the so-called Primer Linea – First Line – attempted to disrupt the protest by tearing-up placards and hurling insults at the crowd. The organizers announced another nationwide protest for October 24.