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Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 11:24 UK

Colombia head tackles border woes

By Will Grant
BBC News, Cucuta, on the Colombian-Venezuelan border

Trucks wait to cross from Colombia into Venezuela in file photo from July 2009
Trade between the two nations was more than $7bn (4.2bn) in 2008

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has met local leaders in the border town of Cucuta to discuss the economic impact of the current crisis with Venezuela.

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez cut off diplomatic ties with Colombia in July and is aiming to reduce trade links.

He is angry at a decision by Colombia to grant the US military permission to use seven bases on Colombian soil.

Businesses on both sides of the border have been increasingly affected by the drop in trade.

President Chavez has said it would take a complete reversal of the decision over the military bases in Colombia to normalise relations.

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As there seems little likelihood of such a change of heart by the Colombian government, Mr Uribe has been discussing the options with local leaders along the border.

After several hours of talks, he said there had been some concrete conclusions reached on how to improve the economy in the region, including reducing the sales tax in Cucuta and improving road links to the rest of Colombia.

But not all the participants were impressed, including Juan Fernando Cristo, who is a senator for the region.

"They come here and talk and talk about budgets about money, about social investment, about infrastructural investment," Mr Cristo said.

"But it's very difficult for people from Bogota - not just the president, but the ministers and the technocratic people - to understand what's happening here."

For Mr Cristo, the key to this issue is greater regional autonomy from both capitals, Bogota and Caracas.

Neither group of neighbours is fighting, he said, rather this is a difference of opinion between two leaders who cannot work together.

With Mr Chavez reiterating his belief that reconciliation is currently "impossible" it seems the businesses in Cucuta and the border towns of Venezuela are facing an uncertain few months.



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Country profile: Venezuela
12 Jun 12 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Colombia
14 Aug 12 |  Country profiles

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