Caracas, March 26, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez classified Colombia's Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, as a "spokesperson for war" and accused him of renewing tensions after he made comments justifying Colombia's illegal March 1 military raid on rebel camp in Ecuador which triggered a regional crisis.
"It was so difficult to restore calm," Chavez said in comments broadcast on state television on Monday. "This immediately causes tension again."
On Sunday Santos said Colombia's attack on a FARC camp in Ecuador was "a legitimate act of war, a legitimate act in defense of democracy." Santos made the comments as he confirmed that and Ecuadoran citizen had been killed during the raid.
Earlier, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa said that if DNA tests confirm that Colombian forces killed an Ecuadoran citizen, Franklin Aisalia, it would complicate the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Santos responded, "To President Correa and Ecuadoran authorities: Be careful with letting yourselves act impetuously on behalf of criminals," further angering Ecuadoran officials.
Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador described Santos' comments as a "cynical" attempt to justify aggression, "not only against Ecuador, but the entire continent."
She pointed out that Santos' statements directly contradict those made by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, after the meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization of America States (OAS) and the Rio Group Summit, where Colombia pledged not to engage in attacks outside its borders again under "any circumstance".
"Franklin Aisalia's death by the Colombian Armed Forces on Ecuadoran territory is an illegitimate act," Salvador said.
Regardless of Aisalia's alleged link with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, it was a violation, because the soldiers from the neighboring country killed him on Ecuador's territory, she added.
In a press conference on Tuesday Chavez said it was up to Colombia to take steps to ease tensions, but warned that some elements of the government in Bogotá and the media are trying to stir up a war.
"The Colombian Defense Minister made a reckless personal declaration that does not reflect the attitude of the Colombian government," he said.
"If I had a Defense Minister that went against the decision of the OAS, then I would dismiss him," Chavez said adding it was up to Uribe to make his own decisions.
It is necessary to differentiate between "the doctrine of Santos and the doctrine of Uribe," Chavez argued.
Chavez's comments came after reports surfaced of verbal clashes between Uribe and Santos over the publication of a leaked photo in Colombian daily El Tiempo, (owned by the Santos family), during the March 17 OAS meeting which falsely claimed to show Ecuador's Security Minister, Gustavo Larrea meeting with FARC leader Raul Reyes.
Venezuelan journalist and former vice-president Jose Vicente Rangel also claimed on Sunday that Santos had met secretly with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Negroponte and functionaries of the CIA, behind Uribe's back.
Santos "is a pawn of the government of the United States…President Uribe should reflect on this," Chavez declared.
Chavez said he was obliged to make the comments because Santos was "doing a lot of damage" and re-igniting tensions with neighboring countries after it had taken so much effort to restore good relations.
"We want peace in South America. We don't want a Kosovo here, or a Vietnam, or a Palestine or a Middle East. No, what we want is peace."
Despite the criticisms, Chavez said he had received "good signs" from Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araújo and was working to reopen Venezuela's embassy in Bogotá.
Uribe, a staunch U.S. ally also alleges that documents on a laptop belonging to the FARC, seized during the raid, show that the FARC gave money to Correa's 2006 presidential campaign. He also claims Correa's ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, planned to give the rebels $300 million.
Chavez ridiculed the accusations and said the CIA was behind the allegations. "It shouldn't surprise you if a photo of me with Bin Laden comes out of that computer," he joked.
"Venezuela has not given a single dollar, a single cent, a single bullet or rifle to the FARC" he added.
However, Chavez warned, tensions would continue as long as the Colombian government continues to use the so-called "proof" on the FARC computers to attack the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela.
"Uribe knows that it is false that Venezuela has links with the FARC and he also knows that Ecuador does not have links with the FARC," he said.
Chavez also told journalists that the last contact the Venezuelan government had with the FARC was on February 27, when a Venezuelan led humanitarian mission achieved the liberation of four former Colombian legislators held by the guerrillas for more than six years Chavez said.
Since the death of Reyes the Venezuelan government has lost all contact with the guerrillas and received no further information about FARC prisoner Ingrid Betancourt, held since 2001 he said.
Chavez added that he hoped contact could be renewed and that a further release of FARC prisoners and ultimately a humanitarian accord could be achieved in Colombia.