The new Colombian ambassador in Venezuela, Milton Rengifo, spoke with EL TIEMPO about what this new stage will be in relations with the neighboring country. After the departure of Armando Benedetti, of which there are still a few comments in Caracas, the official gives a vision that seems to point more to the diplomatic and a commitment to the real strengthening of relations between the two countries.
(Read also: The United States, willing to lift sanctions on Venezuela: this is what Biden is asking for)
From the Colombian residence – where the bust of Simón Bolívar no longer receives visitors because it was transferred to Bogotá – Rengifo appears as “conciliatory” and is determined to build a true dialogue following the guidelines of President Gustavo Petro’s Total Peace.
One year after the reestablishment of bilateral relations, Rengifo points out that “the break of relations with Venezuela was a tremendous failure” and he believes that the road to normalization on all fronts is in the process of being built, so from his point of view “a lot of work must be done” to launch not only the commercial field, but also cultural, social and business relations.
“You don’t fight with your neighbor,” says Rengifo with a painting by Antonio Nariño in the background.
Calm and in good spirits, the incoming ambassador assures that he really likes Caracas -a city he has not visited since 2013-, especially “because there are no traffic jams.” And it is that for the diplomat, the climate of confrontation that Venezuela experienced years ago is precisely a thing of the past, because the different sectors “have reached the conclusion that pugnacity and confrontation lead to nothing.”
(It may interest you: Milton Rengifo formally assumes as ambassador of Colombia in Venezuela)
Ambassador, one year after the reestablishment of relations, what is your balance?
I have been impressed by the spirit of dialogue and the collaborative spirit of various sectors, not only of the Venezuelan Government, but also of businessmen and politicians, committed to concrete solutions. Steps have been taken in terms of trade, transportation, binational steps, and embassy. I have met with businessmen, international organizations; also with ambassadors and Venezuelan officials.
What are the objectives that President Gustavo Petro has set for himself when appointing you in Venezuela?
I think the most important is the objective of Total Peace, which also implies peace in the neighborhood and, above all, achieving integration so that the closure of relations is not repeated. The break in relations was a tremendous failure, a very big mistake and I believe that the Colombian has not made that calculation, there are thousands of job losses, foreign currency and a very serious humanitarian drama on the border.
In this sense, do you defend the role of Venezuela in the dialogues with the ELN?
It is a key step.
I believe that the most important is the objective of total peace, which also implies peace in the neighborhood and, above all, achieving integration so that the closing of relations is not repeated.
You talk about the perspectives that exist from Colombia, but what are the perspectives that the Government of Venezuela has with you?
First, rebuild relations, as well as consular and diplomatic affairs. One with the neighbor does not fight, a neighbor is a brother, who in this case has also shown concern about the presence of Venezuelans in Colombia.
Why is Venezuela concerned about its citizens in Colombia?
The Government of Venezuela asks about its citizens and they want everyone to return. They have a Plan Vuelta a la Patria and they have brought Venezuelans back from several countries.
What debt do you think is the most pressing and what do you hope to resolve with priority?
The whole issue of the reactivation of consular services. On the other hand, the trade issue has the willingness of both governments with a view to concluding business agreements, but this is an aspect that continues to be marked by the issue of sanctions imposed on Venezuela.
You assured that the Caracas consulate would probably move to the embassy headquarters, but there have been complaints…
It was a proposal that, for now, I think we will have to scrap due to logistics.
But why has it taken so long to open the consulate in Caracas?
First, due to the issue of machines and equipment that has obstacles to importation and that we still do not have. The consulate has files that are very sensitive documentation, which as public documents are extremely sensitive. This means that we cannot yet give an inauguration date for the headquarters. I think in December we will have about four.
What is the border situation right now?
Cúcuta has changed, it has been transformed. In fact, the figures handled by Minister Germán Umaña have been very positive in the sense of reducing unemployment, that has meant 50 or 55,000 new jobs. But the reality is that Turkey and China have gained ground in the Venezuelan market, which means that Colombian businessmen must make an interesting bet in terms of the supply of their products.
Can we say that crime on the border has dropped?
I do not deal with figures, but some continue to use the trails. There are problems to overcome.
What is the trade balance right now?
Minister Umaña has given a cut of 600 million dollars in the first 10 months. We are launching a business conference that we are going to do in the remainder of August and it will be very important, it involves more than 200 Colombian businessmen who will be in Caracas.
When is it estimated that Procolombia will have an office in Caracas?
They have seen an office, but that is from the Ministry of Commerce and each one is in charge of their area.
Is Colombia willing to continue providing its support for the dialogue between political factors in Venezuela?
From Colombia we are looking for a dialogue, to agree, to lower the level of confrontation and one would like the neighbor to also be on the same page. The region has been characterized by all the turmoil that took place in the 1980s and 1990s. Therefore, it is important to reach levels of consensus and understand each other in the midst of differences and recognize the other. For example, although nobody believed it, look at the level that we have reached with the United States with President Joe Biden, the country did not go off the rails or anything like that and we must complement that from Venezuela, talk with all possible actors to achieve paths of understanding and agreement.
What are the challenges you have as an ambassador?
Public officials have responsibilities that the law gives us, unlike individuals. There are so many things to do.
ANA MARIA RODRIGUEZ BRAZON