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UN calls for Venezuela-Colombia dialogue over FARC row

Venezuela President Hugo Chávez severed ties after Colombia accused its neighbor of harboring Marxist guerrillas of the FARC rebel group. UN and Latin American leaders are calling for dialogue and restraint.

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Hopes for improved relations

Chávez and Uribe, a staunch US ally, have squabbled for years – over Colombia's claim that Venezuela supports the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and over Venezuela's claim that Colombia's close relationship with the US could destabilize the region. At times the prospect of a military conflict has flared, such as when a Colombia raided on a FARC base on Ecuadorian soil in 2008. Chavez also suspended trade last year to protest plans for a US military base in Colombia.

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Yet the two share a long border and both stand to gain economically by improved bilateral relations.

According to a new report by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile, Colombia is expected to grow by 3.7 percent, slower than many of its neighbors, while Venezuela's growth estimates are negative 3 percent, the worst in Latin America, excluding the Caribbean.

President-elect Santos has indicated a willingness to forge a warmer relationship with Chávez, but this latest rift will set back those aspirations, says Carlos Romero, a political analyst at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. “The real loser here is Santos,” he says.

Mr. Romero agrees with Shifter that with Uribe out of office, there is hope of a stronger relationship. Even Chávez on Thursday indicated some willingness to put tensions behind. "Hopefully [Santos will] understand that leftist and right-wing governments can live together," Chávez was quoted saying.

“Colombia and Venezuela have different allies, but they are neighbors,” Mr. Romero says. “Unfortunately, Santos faces more obstacles now.”