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Colombia leader in rift-healing visit to Caracas after 9-year pause

Photo: Federico Parra / AFP

| By AFP | Javier Tovar and Barbara Agelvis |

Colombia’s Gustavo Petro met on Tuesday with his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro, in the first talks at presidential level since the neighbors reestablished diplomatic ties after a three-year break.

The meeting in Caracas of the two leftist leaders marked a watershed warming between the once-estranged neighbors.

Petro, a former M-19 leftist insurgent who was sworn in as Colombia’s first leftist president in August, called for Venezuela to be brought back into a regional trade alliance and a human rights system.

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“We want to invite Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru to accept the reintegration of Venezuela in the Andean Community as a member with full powers,” Petro said after meeting Maduro at the Miraflores Palace.

Venezuela left the regional trade bloc in 2006.

Petro also called for Venezuela to be pulled back into the human rights convention of the Organization of American States, a hemispheric alliance.

Maduro said he was “very receptive” to the idea.

Venezuela severed diplomatic relations in 2019 after increasingly strained ties with Petro’s predecessors Juan Manuel Santos and conservative Ivan Duque — who Maduro even accused of orchestrating plans to assassinate him.

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The final straw came when Duque backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido — recognized by dozens of countries as the victor in 2018 elections claimed by Maduro.

It was the first visit by a Colombian president to Venezuela’s capital since 2013.

Visit could ‘normalize’ violations

Since Petro succeeded Duque in August, Colombia’s first ever left-wing president has moved to mend relations with Venezuela’s populist leftist government.

Caracas and Bogota formally reestablished diplomatic relations on August 29 by sending ambassadors to each other’s capitals.

Guaido on Tuesday criticized Petro’s decision “to visit the dictator Maduro… and to call him ‘president’.”

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It was an “action that could dangerously normalize human rights violations… and the worst migration crisis in the world,” he wrote on Twitter.

More than seven million Venezuelans have left their country since 2014, according to the United Nations.

Some 2.5 million find themselves in Colombia, as part of an open-door policy followed under Duque, in support of Guaido.

Maduro, after the talks, called for “new steps toward a total opening” of the two neighbors’ shared 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border, a frontier that has been infested with armed groups fighting over lucrative drug resources and routes.

In September, Colombia and Venezuela reopened the border to vehicles transporting goods — considered the first step toward resuming commercial relations worth about $7.2 billion in 2008 but only $400 million last year.

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A string of recent leftist victories in South America meanwhile appear to have placed Maduro in a stronger position.

On Monday he said he had spoken to Brazil’s president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to “resume the binational agenda of cooperation” all but paralyzed under the government of far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and the pressure it placed on global energy supplies — also brought about behind-the-scenes efforts by the United States to engineer at least a minimal warming with Venezuela, a major oil producer.

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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