Colombia and Venezuela open key binational bridge as ties warm

Colombia and Venezuela on Sunday inaugurated a key bridge linking the two 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.

Germn Umaa, Colombia’s trade minister, said the two countries “are recovering the voice and ability to speak together in multilateral institutions.”

Delegations led by Umaa and the governor of the Venezuelan state of Tchira, Freddy Bernal, gathered at the center of the “Tienditas” bridge for an opening ceremony with balloons in the colors of the flags of each country.

The construction of the bridge linking Tchira with the Colombian state of Norte de Santander was completed in 2016, but 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 decongest the other two binational bridges in the area and facilitate trade.

In 2019, Venezuela’s socialist President Nicols Maduro ordered more than a dozen cargo containers placed on the bridge to symbolically block it to protest attempts by the opposition to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela from Colombia.

Venezuela Colombia Bridge soldier Tienditas San Antonio Tachira

A soldier walks in front of the Tienditas International Bridge in San Antonio, Tachira state, Venezuela.LAPRESSE

Diplomatic and commercial relations between Colombia and Venezuela were reestablished in September following the inauguration of Gustavo Petro – a former guerrilla – as Colombia’s president.

Petro’s predecessor, Ivn Duque (2018-2022), had called Maduro a “dictator” and made Colombia one of 50 countries that recognized opposition leader Juan Guaid as Venezuela’s interim president, charging that Maduro’s re-election had been fraudulent.

“Tienditas” was the last remaining crossing linking the countries to be reopened along their 2,200-kilometer (1,367-mile) border following the restoration of relations.

The resumption of trade ties began with the enabling of traffic across the Simn Bolvar and Francisco de Paula Santander bridges in September.

From then until November, 385 trucks passed over the bridges, mostly from Colombia to Venezuela carrying products such as medical supplies, fiber optics, textiles, toilet paper and cardboard. Coiled steel, engines and pipes were transported from Venezuela to Colombia.

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