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Leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro met with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolás Maduro in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas this week, the first bilateral talks between the two leaders as they seek to normalize relations after a three-year break between the two countries, the Associated Press reported.

Both leaders pledged to improve trade and security ties, saying that they are looking for ways to share intelligence on drug trafficking and other crimes along their common border. The Colombian president also said that he will lobby for Venezuela’s re-entry into the Andean Community of Nations, a regional trade and investment group.

Venezuela withdrew from the group in 2006.

Tuesday’s meeting marks a significant shift in Colombia’s foreign policy toward Venezuela following the election of Petro in June, the country’s first leftist leader.

In 2019, Colombia’s then-conservative government joined the US and dozens of other countries in refusing to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader following a presidential election that was widely seen as undemocratic.

But since his victory, Petro has made efforts to engage with Venezuela’s socialist government. In September, both nations reopened their shared border to vehicles transporting goods – considered the first step toward resuming commercial relations that were worth about $7.2 billion in 2008, but only $400 million last year, according to Agence France-Presse.

Even so, Venezuelan opposition leaders criticized Petro’s visit, saying he was helping to “normalize” the violation of human rights in Venezuela by “visiting dictator Maduro and calling him a president.”

Meanwhile, advocacy groups have also urged Petro to seek concrete human rights commitments from Maduro’s regime, noting that there are more than 240 political prisoners in Venezuela.

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