Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos both expressed optimism about meetings in Caracas between their representatives to restore diplomatic and economic ties.
Chavez predicted a successful outcome, as the two sides had “agreed to respect each other,” and said that “relations with Colombia will be better than before.”
Santos was also upbeat about the prospects, saying that he was “optimistic” about the restoration of “trade relations … and greater cooperation on security.” The Colombian leader added, however, that the process “should be slow in order to be secure.”
“We do not want to create too many expectations on the outcome of the meetings tomorrow. What we want is to lay a solid foundation so that relations with Venezuela are enduring,” Santos said.
“From now on we welcome you, a good friend. We are different, but within the framework of respect we will do fine things,” Chavez said.
The Venezuelan president added that many issues would be on the table during the meetings, including the economy, the common border, paramilitaries, kidnapping, guerrillas and refugees.
Colombia’s foreign minister will on Thursday meet with her Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro, and also with the ministers of defense, transportation, commerce and the director of national planning.
Further meetings will be held Friday to establish five committees which will be in charge of different aspects of restoring ties between the neighboring countries.
Colombia’s ambassador to Venezuela, Maria Luisa Chiappe, said Wednesday that the restoration of ties, particularly economic links, was a “priority” for the Santos administration.
Colombian businesses have felt the squeeze of the trade ban, with exports to Venezuela down an estimated 70%.
Trade between the neighboring countries stood at $7 billion in 2008, but tumbled to $4.6 billion the following year and is predicted to be just $2 billion in 2010.
The two leaders agreed to restore diplomatic and economic ties at a meeting in Santa Marta on 10 August.