The foreign ministers of Venezuela and Colombia will meet on Wednesday amid major diplomatic tensions over the recent deportation of more than a 1,000 Colombian citizens living in the troubled neighboring country.
The meeting between Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin and her Venezuelan counterpart Delcy Rodriguez will be held in the northern Colombian city of Cartagena.
According to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the ministers will be accompanied by the governors of the Colombian border provinces and the Venezuelan border states.
According to Maduro, the meeting seeks to “come up with a special plan to create a new border that is productive, healthy, humane, respectful of life, and law.”
According to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the meeting is to “seek bilateral solutions and to express our protest about the way our compatriots have been mistreated.”
The meeting is the first diplomatic attempt to calm the situation at the border, where authorities in the Venezuelan Tachira state has been carrying out razzias in order to deport anyone Colombian.
Other Colombians, fearing violence, voluntarily decided to flee Venezuela and return to their native country, some left decades ago.
The situation has been a major tragedy for the hundreds of people seeking shelter on the Colombian side of the border and a strain on authorities’ and individuals’ ability to provide aid to the former Venezuelan residents.
At the same time, the unilateral border closure has caused an economic crisis in Cucuta, Colombia’s largest border city whose economy is mainly based on trade between the two brother nations.
Additionally, the unexpected and unilateral move from the Maduro administration has come with a major political cost for President Juan Manuel Santos who is only two months ahead of local elections.
While trying to maintain stable relations with an increasingly unstable Venezuela, the Colombian president has been criticized for failing to personally attend the remigrants in Cucuta unlike his main political rival, former President Alvaro Uribe, who took his election campaign to the border city and, with megaphone in hand, called for the defense of Colombians’ rights and dignity.
In a televised speech on Tuesday evening, Santos rejected both Maduro and Uribe’s actions that according to the president seek to “promote political interests, that seek to fish in troubled waters, aware of the proximity of local elections in Colombia and legislative elections in Venezuela.”
However, Santos’ urging of seeking diplomatic and bilateral solutions for border issues was met with harsh rhetoric from Maduro loyalists in the National Assembly who threatened to close more border crossings if Colombia does not curb smuggling and paramilitary activity along the border.
“If we must close the whole border, we will,” said National Assembly President Diosmedo Cabello, one of Maduro’s closest allies.
Led by Cabello, Venezuela’s legislative body unanimously approved a 60-day state of emergency in the Tachira state as requested by Maduro.
Currently, the Colombian-Venezuelan border is currently only closed at the Simon Bolivar international bridge which spans the Rio Tachira connecting Cucuta to the Venezuelan city of San Antonio.