Colombia, Venezuela face crisis in relations

Colombia and Venezuela faced the worst crisis in their relations in years on Monday after the Colombian president accused Venezuela of seeking to install a Marxist regime in his country and Caracas “froze” relations between the two countries.

“Your words, your positions, suggest you are not interested in peace in Colombia, but rather in Colombia becoming the victim of a terrorist government of the Farc,” said Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Sunday, referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s largest rebel group.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said earlier he was putting bilateral ties in a “freezer”, after Uribe dropped him and Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba as mediators in negotiations with the Farc on a possible swap of captured leftist rebels for high-profile hostages the guerrillas hold.

Chávez also announced he had frozen relations with Spain after a recent heated exchange with King Juan Carlos, without saying exactly what that move would entail.

At a regional summit in Chile, the king had told Chávez to “shut up” after he called a former Spanish prime minister a “fascist”.

The Colombian president said Chávez had failed to act as a neutral go-between in the negotiations between Bogota and the rebels.

“We need a mediation with terrorists, and not people who try to lend legitimacy to terrorism,” Uribe said referring to Chávez.

Chávez had said in Venezuela: “I declare to the world that I am putting relations with Colombia in the freezer. I do not believe in anyone in the Colombian government.”

“They have spat brutally in our face when we worked heart and soul to try to get them on the road to peace,” Chávez added.

He later said in a television interview that he was ruling out rejoining the Andean Community of Nations (ACN), a trade bloc of which Colombia is a prominent member.

Venezuela withdrew from the group last year following its decision to join Mercosur, a different trade association led by Argentina and Brazil.

Caracas had been considering returning to the ACN, but Chávez said it was now out of the question.
“Now we are definitely not going back to the ACN,” he said.

Investigation

In Bogota, Cordoba said on Sunday she was being investigated by her country’s Supreme Court for treason. “They notified me yesterday; I am being investigated for treason and collusion,” she told Radio Caracol from Caracas. She did not say if the charges against her were related to her work as mediator or to unrelated allegations.

Uribe approved Chávez and Cordoba for their negotiator roles on August 31, following a telephone call from the Venezuelan leader to Colombian Army General Mario Montoya inquiring about the hostages.

Cordoba came under considerable fire in government circles for secretly meeting rebel commanders Ivan Marquez and Rodrigo Granda, whom the Farc selected to negotiate the swap of 45 abductees for about 500 jailed guerrillas.

Uribe on Wednesday withdrew backing for Chávez and Cordoba to mediate the Farc’s offer to release the 45 high-profile hostages—including three Americans and French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt—in exchange for the jailed rebels.

The conservative Colombian president said he considered Chávez’s role over because the Venezuelan leader had ignored his demand not to speak directly with Colombian generals about the hostages.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has asked Uribe to “maintain a dialogue” with Chávez over the possible swap, his office said on Thursday. Sarkozy has taken a personal interest in the fate of Betancourt, a Colombian former presidential candidate who has a French passport by virtue of a marriage to a Frenchman.

The four-decades-old Farc is Latin America’s largest and longest-fighting insurgency.—Sapa-AFP

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