By Laura Gamba
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) - After seven years of closing the border between Colombia and Venezuela, the bridges connecting the two countries were finally opened on Monday.
Although Colombian President Gustavo Petro said he would not attend the opening of the border, on Monday morning the Casa de Narino, the presidential office, announced that the president would be present at the Simon Bolivar bridge, where the ceremony for the reopening of the border took place.
In the middle of a cheering crowd, Petro together with Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva and the Colombian ambassador to Venezuela Armando Benedetti, walked across the bridge that passes over the Tachira river and connects the two countries that broke off relations more than three years ago.
The Colombian and Venezuelan delegations met in the middle of the bridge, shook hands and sang the hymns of both countries. Then they welcomed a truck that came with Venezuelan merchandise and entered Colombia. Another Colombian truck crossed the border into Venezuelan territory afterwards.
"Today is a historic day for the region, the country and South America," Petro told reporters in a press conference. "I hope that the first beneficiaries will be the people who live on both sides of the border."
The events that took place on Monday represent a radical turning point in the countries’ bilateral relations.
Since President Ivan Duque took office in 2018, Colombia supported Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and his efforts to remove Venezuelan President Maduro. The Venezuelan president broke diplomatic relations with Colombia and blocked the Simon Bolivar bridge with containers in 2019, refusing to allow international aid into his country saying help was not needed.
However, a few days ago Petro announced the reopening of the borders and resumption of commercial flights between the two countries, the most significant step taken to normalize relations.
The ambassadors of both countries have said they will work to reestablish diplomatic and commercial ties between the two countries after years of deteriorating relations.
In 2008, Colombia exported more than US$6 billion to Venezuela and imported US$1.2 billion. Now bilateral trade does not exceed US$400 million.
Some 2.5 million Venezuelan migrants are living in different cities in Colombia, according to migration authorities.