Venezuela may be half a world away from Indonesia, but the people of Venezuela care about this archipelagic nation. When the tsunami devastated Aceh in 2004, Venezuela immediately donated US$2 million for the relief effort.
This small gesture will remain a symbol of friendship in the history of both countries. Surprisingly, Venezuela and Indonesia have been friends for the past 50 years.
"This year, we are celebrating the 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Indonesia. We don't have any problems in our bilateral relations," Venezuelan Embassy Charg* d'Affaires Maria Virginia Mezones Liccioni told The Jakarta Post on Thursday in Jakarta.
The Venezuelan Embassy is also celebrating its 198th Independence Day on Friday with a reception and a photo exhibition in Jakarta. Venezuela gained independence from Spain on July 5, 1811.
Maria, who has been in Indonesia for almost three years, said Indonesia and Venezuela had established diplomatic relations on Oct. 10, 1959. Jakarta opened its embassy in Caracas in 1977 and Venezuela reciprocated in 1981.
When asked about Venezuela's donation, Maria said they had built a polytechnic in Aceh.
"Our President Hugo Chavez is very much interested in promoting education. That's why we decided to build the Institute of Polytechnic of Venezuela-Indonesia in Aceh," she said.
The polytechnic, she went on, would be inaugurated on July 25, 2009.
As for the bilateral relations, Maria said they were progressing smoothly.
"Frankly speaking, we don't have any problems in our ties with Indonesia. We also had high-level visits, such as by former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000 to attend the OPEC meeting. Parliamentary delegations of both countries exchanged visits in recent years," she said.
In economics too, she said, relations were growing, though bilateral trade was still far below the potentials of both countries.
Based on Indonesian trade statistics, bilateral trade surged to US$92.27 million in 2008, an increase of 11.76 percent from the $82.55 million recorded in 2007. It stood at just $24.93 million in 2003. The trade value tripled in five years.
Venezuela imported textiles, rubber, fiber, wood products, electrical equipment and sports equipment from Indonesia. The trade balance is heavily in favor of Indonesia, with $79.19 million in Indonesian exports to Venezuela.
"We have been trying to improve our trade relations with Indonesia. Both countries will hold their Third Meeting of High-Level Joint Commission between Indonesia Venezuela in Caracas in the near future. At this meeting, we will discuss ways and means to enhance our economic relations," Maria said.
Both countries, she continued, had already signed several agreements, such as an agreement on economic and technical cooperation, and one on avoiding double taxation.
"We are also negotiating several agreements, like an agreement on culture and a memorandum of understanding regarding cooperation in agriculture. We are also planning to review some of the old agreements," Maria said.
As for the celebration of 50 years of friendship between Venezuela and Indonesia, she said the embassy planned to host a series of events to mark the occasion.
"We will have a photo exhibition on the works of Rodrigo Benarides, a famous Venezuelan photographer, during our National Day reception on Friday," Maria said.
The embassy also plans to organize a food festival of Venezuelan flavors in Bali and Jakarta. There will also be another photo exhibition in October.
Maria, a career diplomat with 20 years of experience, is very happy to be in Jakarta.
"I feel at home in Jakarta. The only difference between Caracas and Jakarta is that here it is very hot. But people here are very kind and friendly. I enjoy my stay here," she said.