First move for Colombia's Santos: Reconcile with Venezuela's Chávez
Colombia's new President Juan Manuel Santos is hoping to mend relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez days after outgoing President Álvaro Uribe repeated the charge that Chávez harbors leftist guerrillas.
Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chávez has never shied away from flinging harsh rhetoric at perceived enemies, especially the one next door: staunch US ally Colombia. But outgoing Colombian President Álvaro Uribe's recent repetition of the charge that Mr. Chávez harbors leftist Colombian guerrillas sent the fiery populist over the edge.Skip to next paragraph
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His rhetoric is being seen as an attempt to draw a line in the sand as former Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos takes over from fellow conservative Uribe. But the two countries, which share a 1,375-mile border, have more at stake than mere goodwill. They are economically interdependent.
Mr. Santos response was a reminder of the stakes: He immediately set up today's face-to-face meeting in Colombia in a bid to cool down the tensions and get bilateral ties on more solid footing.
Still, some say Chávez's reaction this time may have actually cost him some ground.
"Chávez played it wrong. Instead of answering the question of whether there are guerrillas [in Venezuela] ... he [accused] Colombia of intervention and broke ties," says Mervin Rodriguez, an international relations professor at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. "Now Chávez is isolated."
Is Chávez supporting the FARC?
Chávez did not instigate the latest political battle between the two countries, which have squabbled ever since Mr. Uribe took office eight years ago.
Last month, Colombia presented evidence – including photographs and maps – to the Organization of American States alleging that at least 1,500 rebels are seeking refuge across the border in Venezuela. Uribe has long accused Venezuela of protecting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which emerged in the 1960s as a Marxist peasant insurgency and which Uribe has taken on as the cornerstone of his presidency.