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Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Alí Rodríguez and his Colombian counterpart, Carolina Barco, pledged to further deepen bilateral relations between their two nations, emphasizing the importance of preserving their shared historic patrimony and reiterating that all of the economic and commercial projects that were suspended due to the "Granda Affair" would be reactivated. The two ministers met in Bogotá, Colombia, yesterday, in order to advance the agreements reached between their respective presidents last week, in which it was declared that their diplomatic impasse had been overcome.

Rodríguez and Barco also committed themselves, alongside the Ministers of Justice and Defense of both nations, to reinforce the necessary mechanisms in order to guarantee security along their 1,400 mile border. It was decided to create a high-level commission between the two countries, an initiative that, according to both Foreign Ministers, should be undertaken as soon as possible.

In a joint communiqué released shortly after the meeting, it was emphasized that the high-level commission would be key in "maintaining a constant and fluid dialogue between both governments that will permit that they overcome, rapidly and efficiently, whatever juncture that puts the bilateral relations in jeopardy."

Colombia and Venezuela had been at odds since evidence emerged in mid-January proving that Colombian officials paid members of the Venezuelan police to kidnap Rodrigo Granda, the "foreign relations" minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Caracas on the 13th of December, 2004. After demanding an apology from the Colombian government, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez suspended bilateral agreements and withdrew his ambassador to Bogotá.

The diplomatic impasse was overcome on February 15th, when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe met with Chávez in Caracas thanks to the diplomacy of Cuban President Fidel Castro and Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva. Since their meeting, relations between the two Andean nations have been fully reestablished.

Rodríguez asserted that energy integration must be a priority for both nations. Carolina Barco affirmed his statements, adding that from now on, both nations must make "very specific decisions in order to advance the bilateral projects "in a concrete and rapid manner".

"The visits of high-level officials is another way of further strengthening relations. It is not intended to mend relations, but instead it is a way to continue forward, to see where we are. For example, the initial plan to construct a gas pipeline has changed and it is necessary to reevaluate what the best course of action is now," noted Barco.

It was agreed that between March 1st and 4th, a bi-national technical commission would met to discuss plans for the gas pipeline between the two countries as well as the construction of an oil refinery in Cartagena.

Two Brother Nations

Alí Rodríguez carried a personal message from Chávez to the Colombian people, in which he emphasized that Venezuela will always be available and willing to collaborate in the solution to the problems that their jurisdictions share, as well as with the treaties and commitments they have signed with other nations.

Upon his arrival at the International airport in Bogotá, he once again refuted allegations that Venezuela has links with the Colombian guerrilla and reminded the crowd that the relations between the two neighboring countries have been characterized by solidarity, "as it should be between two brother nations that share several common traits such as history and origin."

The Venezuelan Foreign Minister also stated that his country is ready and willing to collaborate in the investigations of the kidnapping and assassination of the daughter of the ex-president of Paraguay.

Solidarity, Sympathy, and a Bi-national Emergency Fund In addition to deliberating the deepening of bilateral projects in energy, commerce, and infrastructure, the Foreign Ministers discussed topics such as migration and the environment. They also discussed the crisis provoked by the recent rains, flooding, and massive landslides that have left over 15,000 people homeless and has destroyed several bridges and highways in both nations

After expressing their solidarity and sympathy for the victims and their families in the Venezuelan states of Zulia, Mérida, and Táchira and the departments of Santander and Northern Santander in Colombia, that have been particularly hit hard by the rain, Rodríguez and Barco agreed that before the end of March, they would meet in Caracas in order to define the terms for the creation of a Binational Emergency Fund.

They also emphasized the importance of generating a joint plan of action for the people who live along the Colombian-Venezuelan border that would include centers of sustainable production, cooperatives, and basic services.

Colombia offered to construct temporary bridges until weather conditions allow the undertaking of more long-term projects. Colombia also sent ten tons of food and medical aid, which was received with great appreciation by Rodríguez.