Santos, who said he was “very close” to Bautista, made the announcement Tuesday during a press conference in the Colombian port of Santa Marta, where he met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to discuss repairing severed ties between the neighbor nations.
Bautista is a native of Cucuta, the capital of the Norte de Santander department which borders Venezuela. He is a lawyer who has held positions as the mayor of Cucuta, the minister for telecommunications, minister for foreign trade, president of the Commission on the Regulation of Telecommunications, and as Colombian consul in Sao Paolo.
At the press conference Chavez said he had not decided if former Venezuelan Ambassador to Bogota Gustavo Marquez would resume his position now that diplomatic ties have been repaired.
Colombian businessmen hit hard by the crisis with Venezuela celebrated the reparation of diplomatic and trade ties with their neighbor nation, but insisted that Venezuela must pay the $800 million reportedly owed to Colombian exporters.
Guillermo Botero, president of Colombia’s National Merchants’ Federation (Fenalco), said that “some rules of the game need to be established” in terms of Venezuela paying back its debts to Colombia.
“Everything is recorded in invoices, in export declarations, as well as import ones … If Chavez’s government doesn’t like an operation, they should investigate the importers over there” Botero said.
The Fenalco president said he was prepared to make up part of a bilateral commission to analyze the issue.
Javier Diaz, president of Colombia’s national association of international trade (Analdex), was in agreement with Botero. “Colombian businessmen are disposed to participate in a process to prove, or not, the presence of overcharging or fictitious exports,” Diaz said.
Rafael Mejia, the president of the Colombian Agricultural Society (SAC) said it was important not to make rushed decisions now that ties have been re-established. He agreed with the creation of a bilateral trade commission, but said that Colombian exporters should be cautious about returning to do business with Venezuela at this stage.
Jose Felix Lafaurie, president of the Ranchers’ Federation (Fedegan), commented that the re-establishment of ties will greatly benefit Colombians in border regions, who were worst hit by frozen trade.
Chavez suspended trade ties in 2009, after Colombia signed a controversial pact granting the U.S. access to seven Colombian military bases, a move which Venezuela viewed as a threat to regional sovereignty. Colombia’s exports to Venezuela fell an estimated 70%, while many Colombians who made their living transporting merchandise between the two countries were left without employment.