Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said that the restoration of Colombia-Venezuela ties depends on those nations’ presidents reaching an agreement when they meet Tuesday in Santa Marta.
“The meeting will be to revise issues that are on the table. If there is an agreement between the presidents, relations will be established. What happens will depend on the dialogue. The meeting is precisely for that,” said Holguin.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will meet with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez in the Colombian coastal town of Santa Marta, in the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, the spot where liberator Simon Bolivar died in 1830.
Chavez is expected to land at Simon Bolivar airport at midday and travel directly to meet with Santos. The Colombian president will travel to Santa Marta Tuesday morning, accompanied by Holguin and other ministers.
Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who has offered to mediate the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela, wished the presidents luck and said he was “optimistic” that the two leaders would reach an agreement.
Colombian ally the U.S. on Monday expressed its support for the meeting.
“We certainly encourage these type of meetings,” U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley during a daily press conference. Crowley did not elaborate on the meeting or its possible outcomes.
While Venezuela officially broke ties in late July, following a Colombian presentation to the Organization of American States alleging tolerance for a guerrilla presence within Venezuela, trade between the two nations has been suspended for over a year.
Chavez froze trade with Colombia after the latter signed a controversial military pact with the U.S., granting it access to seven Colombian military bases. Colombian exporters have felt the squeeze of the trade ban, with Colombian exports to Venezuela down an estimated 70%.
Javier Diaz, the president of Analdex (Colombia’s association for foreign trade), told Portafolio that Colombian businessmen are “skeptical” about Chavez’s visit to Colombia.
“I think that expectations are very positive in the sense that we may establish relations and improve the political atmosphere between the two countries,” Diaz said.
However Diaz said that there is a “great skepticism” among Colombian businessmen over trade ties being revived, especially because Venezuela has not paid back its debts to Colombia.
“It would be difficult to send merchandise over there without the payments – the debts – having been paid. It’s clear that the improvement of trade relations will come with a good political atmosphere, and that the political issue is associated withe the issue of payment, ” Diaz said.
The Analdex president said that there was already a debt of $800 million in July 2009 when trade ties were suspended, meaning that “today there are two-year-old debts.”