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Maduro, on the reestablishment of relations with Colombia: “If it is not done well, it will be a failure”

Nicolás Maduro, during a meeting with the new Colombian ambassador to Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, in Caracas, on August 29.YURI CORTEZ (AFP)

“Whoever sees it,” he said. Nicholas Maduro while showing everyone present a golden ring with a precious stone embedded— he becomes a chavista and a castrocommunist.

The president of Venezuela received jokingly this Monday the new Colombian ambassador, Armando Benedetti, the one in charge of restoring 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, in a suit, gave the host a hat come back and this corresponded with a painting by 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 their twinning should be a party and a carnival, after the little cold war that they have starred

The relaxed tone, however, is not going to precipitate the roadmap that has been imposed for return to normal. “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, he 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 from each side with the presence of the foreign ministers. Petro must now give his approval.

There are many pending issues on the table. Like border securitywhere drug cartels and Colombian guerrilla groups operate. Or the peace process with the ELN guerrilla, 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. Also the future of Monomers, a Venezuelan company based in Colombia that produces a third of its fertilizers for the field. “If it is not done well, it will be a failure,” Maduro repeated to Benedetti, who was accompanied by his partner, Adelina Guerrero. And, remembering the estrangement between the two, he added: “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 concern the government of Petrowould like to control it by opening a gas station with Venezuelan prices on the Colombian side, as in the past he 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 where there is hardly any control of the State —be it Colombia or Venezuela— to collect the millionaire rewards offered by the United States 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. The US president, 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 bothered by other countries meddling 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, assured that they called each other daily. Later, in his view, everything was broken by the interference of the United States. Now, he added, he would like to have that kind of relationship with Petro. Benedetti, who was listening attentively, will act as an intermediary between them. Face to face were two new partners who were received with joy, but who want to do things little by little.

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