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Colombia’s president arrives in Venezuela, as two countries move to mend fences

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (L) meets with Colombian President Gustavo Petro at the Miraflores Palace, in Caracas, Venezuela January 7, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Colombia's President Gustavo Petro has traveled to Venezuela to meet with his counterpart Nicolas Maduro, as the two South American countries take further steps to normalize their relations.

The Saturday trip came just days after the two countries finalized reopening of their common border, which was closed under the former US-backed Colombian government in 2018.

According to the Colombian ambassador in Venezuela, Armando Benedetti, Petro arrived in Caracas around lunchtime Saturday. He was received by Maduro at the presidential palace.

The Colombian ambassador said the purpose of the two president’s meeting was "continuing to work for a shared agenda between two sister nations."

It is the leaders' second meeting since the leftist Petro took power from Ivan Duque last August and the official resumption of diplomatic ties a month later.

Petro had a previous meeting with Maduro on November 1, when he called for Venezuela to be brought back into a regional trade alliance and human rights system.

Venezuela severed diplomatic relations with its neighbor in 2019 due to increasingly strained ties with 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, who was then recognized by some countries as the victor in 2018 elections claimed by Maduro.

Reestablishing ties with Venezuela was one of Petro's first moves as president.

On January 2, the countries reopened the last stretch of their shared 2,200-kilometer (1,350-mile) border, which was partially closed seven years ago before being completely blocked in 2019.

The meeting came just days after Petro announced a ceasefire with Colombia's last recognized guerrilla group, the ELN. The guerrillas, however, later denied any such deal existed. Venezuela is a guarantor of ongoing negotiations between the Colombian government and ELN.

Petro is scheduled to visit Chile on Monday to meet another South American leftist leader, Gabriel Boric.

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