Maduro and Benedetti met at the Miraflores Palace in the capital, Caracas.
Colombia, the region’s strongest ally for decades in the United States, was among dozens of countries that withdrew recognition of Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader after his 2018 re-election, which they say was fraudulent.
Petro, Colombia’s first left-wing president, and Maduro have expressed a willingness to build a new phase of cooperation, including the reopening of border crossings for commercial traffic, the renewal of military cooperation to ease tensions in areas where armed groups are active and the resumption of Colombian consular services in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia, Felix Plasencia, also arrived at his post on Sunday.
Maduro expelled all Colombian diplomats in February 2019. He claims former Colombian president Iván Duque promoted plans to overthrow his government for years.
Neither Maduro nor Benedetti made any public statements immediately after their meeting. Benedetti previously said he would speak to Maduro about a presidential meeting with Petro.
In 2010, when tensions ran high between the countries, a visit to Colombia by Maduro’s mentor and predecessor, the late President Hugo Chávez, improved relations. Colombia’s then-president Juan Manuel Santos even called Chávez his “new best friend.”
However, Ronal Rodríguez, a researcher at Rosario University’s Venezuela Observatory, told The Associated Press that a meeting between Petro and Maduro in Colombia today could be more complex.
“There may be protests from the Venezuelan people in Colombia,” Rodríguez said. Of the more than 6 million Venezuelans who have left their country as a result of an ongoing crisis, about 2 million live in Colombia.
Duque supported the economic sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union on Venezuela and repeatedly accused Maduro of protecting some Colombian rebels. Meanwhile, Maduro accused Duque’s government of allowing people in Colombia to plot against Venezuela.
Colombia and Venezuela share a border of about 1,370 miles (2,200 kilometers). Bandits, drug traffickers, paramilitary groups and guerrillas take advantage of the remote and desolate landscape to operate, although that did not deter legal trade until Maduro ordered the closure of official border crossings in 2015.
Maduro ordered the border closure following an attack by three soldiers and a civilian in a border town while they were conducting anti-smuggling operations. Foot traffic eventually resumed and some of the cargo continued to move through the northernmost bridge.
Goods have entered Venezuela illegally through dirt roads manned by armed groups and others, with the blessing of officials on both sides of the border. In the same way, illegal imports also enter Colombia, but on a smaller scale. On any given day, men lumber loads of soda, avocado and other produce, cooking oil and other goods on carts, bicycles, motorcycles and their own backs along illegal roads.
However, the sanctioned trade would proceed much faster.
The commercial exchange that reached $2.4 billion in 2014 was cut to about $406 million last year, of which $331 million was imports from Colombia, according to the Chamber of Venezuelan-Colombian Economic Integration. The group, based in Caracas, estimates that activity could reach $800 million this year if the border remains closed, but could reach $1.2 billion if the border crossings reopen to vehicles.
The Venezuelan government estimates that the commercial exchange could exceed $4 billion within a year of a fully reopened border.
Juan Guaidó, the leader of the US-backed opposition who had Duque’s full support, criticized Benedetti for failing to address a variety of topics upon his arrival, including the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, immigration and the lack of electoral conditions.
“Today the ambassador (in Caracas) is appointed by a democratically elected president,” Guaidó tweeted. “We Venezuelans are fighting for that right.”
Associated Press writer Astrid Suárez contributed to this report from Bogotá, Colombia.