Lima, Peru, May 26, 2022 / 16:00 pm (CNA).
The Church has asked the governments of Colombia and Venezuela to resume their “truncated binational relations” in order to respond effectively to the challenges involved in serving migrants.
The call to restore diplomatic relations was made during a May 24 press conference in the Diocese of Cúcuta, where a meeting of the National Secretariat for Social Pastoral Ministry was held with the border dioceses of Tibú, Ocaña, Cúcuta, Nueva Pamplona, Arauca, and Riohacha, as well as Jesuit Refugee Service, in order to address the situation of Venezuelan emigration.
Reading from a statement, Father Rafael Castillo Torres, director of the National Secretariat for Social Pastoral Ministry in Colombia, said that “there have been not a few signs of concern … that challenge our humanitarian and pastoral action.”
Among these are “human trafficking, the recruitment of minors into armed gangs, the exploitation of workers, illegal economies, widespread violence, people disappearing, the absence of government institutions abandoning our borders and the ongoing presence of organized crime, capable of controling people and organizations.”
Therefore, he said, “from this city of Cúcuta, so historically united with our sister nations, we call on our governments to resume the truncated binational relations.”
The breaking of diplomatic relations goes back to when Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term as president in January 2019 after winning a contested election in which opposition candidates were barred from running or were imprisoned. Venezuela’s bishops called his new term illegitimate, and opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s interim president.
Since Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen severe shortages and hyperinflation, and millions have emigrated.
Guaidó set Feb. 23, 2019 as the date to try to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela overland from Brazil and Colombia and by sea from Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela. However, the Maduro regime forcibly blocked the aid from coming in, sparking clashes at border crossings.
The same day Maduro announced he was breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia and gave Colombian diplomatic personnel 24 hours to leave the country.
However, the Colombian Foreign Minister at the time, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, pointed out that since Colombia no longer recognized the Maduro regime and was supporting Guaidó as interim president, diplomatic relations could not be broken.
Nevertheless, in practice there have been no bilateral relations between the states since then.
Fr. Castillo said it is necessary for the two nations “to be able to rebuild their binational relations with all that that means and involves.”
“Not only because of border traffic, but because we believe that two sister nations that have grown together, that have progressed together historically, have to rebuild their relations as sister peoples. Especially in the face of this migratory challenge that we have on our border that must put the life and dignity of our migrant brothers in first place,” the priest said.
According to a World Bank article from November 2021, some 5.6 million people have left Venezuela since 2015, and of these, 1.7 million are in Colombia.
The director of the National Secretariat of Social Pastoral Ministry of Colombia expressed his desire that it be possible to “have a joint strategy of Church and nation to be able to respond to these pastoral challenges” with migrants.
“Regardless of who the Colombians elect as president,” the priest said, “we believe that it’s imperative to be able to reestablish those bilateral relations because we need it.”
“It’s almost a moral imperative to do so, because our peoples are suffering and because of the need we have to rebuild these relationships with a sense of fraternity, solidarity and hope, because that is what we want as a Church.”
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