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After 7 years, the Colombia-Venezuela border is reopening to trade


The main border crossing between Venezuela and Colombia officially opens to trade today after years of being closed. The border opening fulfills a campaign pledge by Colombia's new president, Gustavo Petro, to reestablish formal relations with Venezuela. But what does it mean for Venezuelans who are trying to leave their own country in record numbers on a daily basis? Reporter Manuel Rueda is in Cucuta on the Colombian side of the border. Hi.

MANUEL RUEDA, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So how significant is today's border opening?

RUEDA: Well, this is quite important because for years, the governments of Colombia and Venezuela were ideological rivals on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. So what this border opening shows is that they're taking a different approach. Now they want to cooperate on security issues, on trade, on immigration issues.

FADEL: Now, Venezuela right now is considered the second-largest external displacement crisis in the world. So what does this border opening mean for Venezuelans who are trying to leave their country?

RUEDA: Well, the hope is that with more trade, the economy improves somewhat. When the border last functioned normally back in 2014, trade between both countries was worth about $2 billion each year. So perhaps, you know, this helps businesses on both sides of the border to exchange with each other the raw materials that they need to get manufacturing up and running again. So maybe that generates some jobs. And maybe that means that some people might want to stay in the country now. But the situation is still quite difficult. I mean, the minimum wage in Venezuela right now is about $16 a month. So when you actually go on a road that leads into the center of Colombia, you can still find many people from Venezuela just walking, walking towards the center of Colombia because they don't have money to pay for the bus. And one of the people I met was a 21-year-old man called Elio Sanabria (ph). And this is what he said.

ELIO SANABRIA: (Non-English language spoken).

RUEDA: So what he's saying there is that he was working at a chicken plant in Venezuela. And his wage was $20 a month. And he says, you know, this is just no way to live. You just have to live day to day. There's barely enough money for food. And so he was trying to head to Chile, where he has some friends who told him they might be able to help him find work there.

FADEL: So some possible hope for some alleviation of those economic struggles in Venezuela. But beyond Venezuela, what does the border opening mean for this region of South America?

RUEDA: So Gustavo Petro, the new president of Colombia, is trying to improve relations with Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. And the border opening is just part of a broader plan he has. His main interest - Petro's main interest is to generate peace talks with different rebel groups that still exist in Colombia. But he needs Maduro's help because many of those groups also operate in Venezuela. So will the relationship go to that level where Maduro will help him to make peace with the rebel groups? We'll have to see.

FADEL: Reporter Manuel Rueda is in Cucuta, Colombia. Thank you so much for your reporting.

RUEDA: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.