Colombia, Venezuela sign pacts to mend relations —amid borderlands unrest
The foreign ministers of Colombia and Venezuela have signed 13 agreements intended to increase cooperation between the neighboring countries, according to a March 3 report on the Colombian Exterior Ministry website. The agreements were signed at the conclusion of a Binational Economic Meeting between the two countries in Caracas, focusing on themes such as border security and the renewal of commercial relations following last year's bilateral crisis.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez responded by saying that he "will hurry to finalize the agreements, as I don't want them to be left standing." The existing framework for trade agreements between the two nations is due to expire this April when Venezuela departs from the Andean Community of Nations (CAN). (Colombia Reports, March 4)
The oil-rich borderlands shared by Colombia and Venezuela remain intensely militarized, with a profusion of armed actors, both official and outlaw. In early February, hundreds of indigenous protesters blocked the roads into the Colombian border department of Arauca, cutting off access to the key oil-producing region. They were protesting the detention by the military of three of their leaders who are accused of links with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas. The protesters also called for the establishment of a permanent "verification commission" to monitor the situation of indigenous groups in the Arauca region, with particular respect to the ecological impacts of oil extraction, and the use of indigenous peoples by armed actors. California-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation and Spain's Repsol have operations in the region. The seven indigenous leaders were detained on Jan. 25 in the town of Saravena. (Latin America Bureau, Feb. 7)