Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro agreed to meet with his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, on Monday to resolve a border dispute now one month old.
On August 19, Maduro began closing several border crossings between the two nations and deporting over 1,500 Colombians living in his country, in an effort he says would combat illegal smuggling and “paramilitary” activity along the border.
Over 16,000 Colombians subsequently left Venezuela voluntarily, citing harassment and intimidation at the hands of the Venezuelan authorities.
For his part, President Santos has attempted to address the issue through diplomatic channels. A week after the initial closures and deportations he sent Foreign Minister Maria Holguin to meet with her Venezuelan counterpart Delcy Rodriguez in Cartagena. When that meeting did not resolve the conflict, Santos took the case to UNASUR, and then the Organization of American States.
The Venezuela government did not cooperate with Santos’ attempts to work through the international bodies; coordinating with Nicaragua and Ecuador to block the issue at the OAS.
Since the border closure Maduro has accused Santos of avoiding a meeting and supporting a plot to assassinate him.
President Santos demanded three conditions be met prior to a meeting between the heads of state: open a humanitarian corridor to allow deported students to attend their schools in Venezuela, allow deported families to recoup their belongs that they had left behind, and respect the due process of migrants.
Those conditions being satisfactorily met, Santos confirmed the meeting between the heads of state. “I am willing to meet with President Maduro to make decisions and find concrete solutions to have a healthy and open border,” he said.
At a recent public appearance, Maduro indicated his willingness to strike a deal to end the dispute. “The meeting will be next Monday in Quito…I’m ready. I have my pencil to sign a peace deal,” he said.
Holguin confirmed the meeting, indicating that the presidents of Ecuador and Uruguay will be present.
The heads of state are expected to discuss the problem of illegal smuggling across the border, and will need to reach an accord on how to address that issue.
Maduro says that the closures are a means “reestablish the right to peace and tranquility, and prosperity” along the border. Juan Manuel Santos countered, “Closing the borders is not how one combats the problems of smuggling and criminal groups.