Venezuela renews diplomatic relations with Colombia

The Venezuelan government renewed all diplomatic relations with Colombia on Sunday following resolutions reached at the Río Group presidential summit last Friday in the Dominican Republic.

José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the OAS

Merida, March 10, 2008 ( – The Venezuelan government renewed all diplomatic relations with Colombia on Sunday following resolutions reached at the Río Group presidential summit last Friday in the Dominican Republic. Relations had been suspended for a week following attacks by the Colombian military on encampments of the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) within Ecuadorian territory on March 1st.

A formal statement released by the Venezuelan Foreign Relations Ministry said the decision was “animated by the victory of peace and sovereignty obtained in the Río Group (Santo Domingo, March 7th, 2008) where the importance of Latin American unity for the overcoming of conflicts was demonstrated.”

Venezuela also invited Colombia to return its officials to the Colombian Embassy in Venezuela as soon as they wish. Likewise, Venezuelan embassy personnel will be promptly sent back to Colombia, with a new Ambassador to Colombia to be named shortly by Nicolás Maduro, the Foreign Relations Minister.

The normalization complies with the agreement to keep lines of communication open sealed by a tense handshake at the end of the Río Group summit which was full of heated debates and accusations.

The Rio Group agreement signed and accepted by all countries, including Colombia, rejected the violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty, recognized Colombia’s apology for its military aggression, and committed the signatories to ensure that such an incident never “under any circumstances,” happens again.

However, Maduro assured that the transition back to normal relations will take time, and will be contingent on the compliance with the Río Group agreement.

Venezuela will return to normal commercial relations with Colombia as well, Maduro affirmed, clarifying that threats to nationalize Colombian companies made during the crisis last week should be considered in the context of the crisis.

Colombia, a major U.S. ally and recipient of over $5 billion in U.S. military aid since the year 2000, had followed up its attacks in Ecuador by accusing Chávez of financing terrorists. The Chávez administration said cutting off commercial relations and sending troops to the border was a preventative measure against apparent threats of attack.

Because of the “fragility” of the peace achieved by the Río Group, the countries must be “very watchful and careful,” Maduro told Reuters Sunday, adding that “the U.S. government almost achieved its goal” of war to destabilize the region.

José Miguel Insulza, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), which passed a resolution denouncing Colombia`s violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty that was later endorsed by the Río Group, said that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez`s shift from “harsh” words to “conciliatory” intervention at the summit was “decisive and tremendously constructive”.

Insulza now leads an OAS commission made up of delegates from Panama, the Bahamas, Peru, Brazil, and Argentina to inspect the Colombian-Ecuadorian border region where the March 1st attacks took place. The commission will report its findings at the meeting of foreign relations ministers scheduled for March 17th in Washington by request of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

Speaking with the press in Quito Sunday, a tight-lipped Insulza said the commission was there to “clarify the facts that are still not clear”. Insulza would not reveal the agendas of Ecuador and Colombia as they host the OAS.

However, Ecuadorian Security Minister Gustavo Larrea told the press that he had asked the OAS to guarantee international military vigilance of the border between Ecuador and Colombia “so that peace between the two nations is long-lasting”.

If the OAS does not do it, Larrea announced, Ecuador would solicit “blue helmets”. He reported that Uribe had already rejected the idea of an international peacekeeping force at its border, but had promised border vigilance by Colombian troops.

Anticipating the arrival of the OAS commission in Bogotá today, the Colombian Foreign Relations Minister, Fernando Araújo, told the press that Colombia would show the commission sites where the FARC allegedly attacked Colombian forces from Ecuadorian territory. The Colombian government claimed last week that the raid which killed Raúl Reyes, the FARC`s second in command, and set off last week`s crisis was justified as “legitimate self-defense”.

Along with Reyes, over 20 others were killed in the bombardment, including five Mexican students, many of them asleep according to Ecuadorian investigations. The camp was meant for humanitarian exchange and not military actions, according to delegates of the Chilean communist party who visited Reyes days prior to the attacks.

Following the death of Reyes, the FARC declared that it would continue on the path to a humanitarian accord. Similarly, Minister Maduro proclaimed Sunday that the FARC`s position brings “faith and trust in the in the achievement of a humanitarian accord,” and that Venezuela will “exhaust all efforts” in the pursuit of such an accord.

The next day, President Uribe told the Chilean daily La Tercera that humanitarian hostage exchange with the FARC “continues being possible and we have said that we welcome those countries and institutions that work to achieve this agreement”.

In the same interview, Uribe called Reyes “an obstacle to humanitarian accord and peace,” contradicting announcements by President Correa and French Foreign Relations Minister Bernard Kouchner, that Reyes and Correa had been negotiating the liberation of 12 hostages, including ex-French presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, for later this month.

President Chávez, during his announcement of the creation of a new federal Ministry for Women`s Issues on March 8th, made a request directly to FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to liberate Betancourt. “Manuel Marulanda, send us Ingrid,” Chávez pleaded, with Betancourt`s mother at his side.

Meanwhile, Ramón Rodríguez Chacín, the Venezuelan Interior and Justice Minister, announced today that Venezuelan authorities have arrested Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco, a high profile drug trafficker wanted in the United States for the smuggling cocaine and money laundering.

The United States, which has accused Venezuela repeatedly of not cooperating in the war on drugs, had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of “Fatty” González.

Rodríguez asserted that the arrest is a sign that Venezuela is indeed combating drug trafficking. Despite the international police organization INTERPOL`s calls for extradition, Rodríguez said González will be tried first in Venezuela if he is found to have committed crimes there, and if any people or businesses acted as accomplices, the Ministry will “exercise the actions that the law indicates”.

González`s lawyer described the arrest as “illegal and illegitimate.”

Along with González, around 50 alleged Colombian paramilitary soldiers presumed to be part of what is known as the Guajira cartel, to which González is also suspected to be affiliated, were detained.