Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro made a surprise trip to meet his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro on Saturday — their second face-to-face after the thawing of a years-long diplomatic freeze.
The two leaders held talks for about three hours in Caracas at the Miraflores presidential palace, where Petro — Colombia’s first leftist president — arrived around midday.
The summit came just days after the final reopening of the South American neighbors’ shared border, closed in a spat over Maduro’s disputed 2018 reelection.
Since taking office in August, Petro’s government has worked to mend diplomatic ties with Caracas.
Venezuela has also served as a key facilitator for Petro as he seeks to fulfill a campaign promise of establishing “total peace” with the armed groups still active in Colombia, some of which operate along the two countries’ porous border.
At the end of 2022, Petro seemed to have made major progress on that front, announcing a bilateral ceasefire with five armed groups that would last from Jan. 1 to June 30.
But one of the groups, the ELN, said just three days later that it had not entered into any such deal, and the government conceded later that nothing had been signed.
A joint statement released after the Maduro-Petro meeting Saturday said that Venezuela “will support the Colombian government in its goal to maintain the bilateral ceasefire.”
It also said that the two leaders celebrated “the progress achieved in the opening of the border bridges” and that they hoped to reach a future agreement on the “reciprocal promotion and protection of investments.”
‘Very fruitful meeting’
Petro shook hands with Maduro and left the palace without speaking to the media.
“We had a comprehensive and very fruitful meeting,” Maduro tweeted after the meeting.
“We have a clear path of shared work that will continue to give positive results for our countries, in different areas. Long live the union between Colombia and Venezuela!” Maduro wrote.
It was the leaders’ second meeting since Petro took power from Ivan Duque last August and the official resumption of diplomatic ties a month later.
On Petro’s earlier Nov. 1 visit to Maduro, he called for Venezuela to be brought back into a regional trade alliance and human rights system.
Venezuela had severed diplomatic relations with its neighbor in 2019 after increasingly strained ties between Petro’s predecessors Juan Manuel Santos and conservative Duque — who Maduro accused of orchestrating plans to assassinate him.
The final straw came when Duque backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido — recognized by dozens of countries as the victor in 2018 elections claimed by Maduro.
Petro heads to Chile on Monday for a state visit and talks with another fellow leftist leader, Gabriel Boric.