Venezuela and Colombia Improve Relations at OAS Summit

The Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister, Nicolás Maduro, and the Colombian Chancellor, Fernándo Araújo, agreed to improve their communication despite political differences and discussed bilateral relations in a private meeting Monday during the 38th summit of the Organization of American States.
Colombian Chancellor Fernándo Araújo and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro met privately Monday and agreed to keep lines of communication open, despite political differences. (ABN)

Mérida, June 3, 2008 (– The Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister, Nicolás Maduro, and the Colombian Chancellor, Fernándo Araújo, agreed to improve their communication despite political differences and discussed bilateral relations in a private meeting Monday during the 38th summit of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Medellín, Colombia.

“With Colombia we have discussed diverse themes in a very frank manner… We have distinct visions of some processes that are underway on the continent, distinct visions of some elements of bilateral policies, but we have ratified the necessity of maintaining a permanent communication about different topics and conversing very frankly,”
Maduro told the press after meeting with Araújo.

Maduro expressed that there are “elites,” including the owners of major newspapers such as El Tiempo in Colombia, El País in Spain, and the Miami Herald who wish to provoke “armed conflict, that there be violence between our countries and our people.” The minister insisted that Colombia and Venezuela must not allow “the media and people interested in damaging our relations impose an agenda on our countries, our governments, our peoples.”

He continued, “very frankly we have said to [Colombia] that we hope every type of public campaign be stopped in relation to the themes that the Colombian and Venezuelan public opinion already know well, and that levels of respect and communication are re-established.”

Following the meeting, Araújo reported, “We reviewed how several themes that are of interest to both countries that have frozen up a little and the importance of re-engaging them.” Topics of discussion included “commerce, the theme of border security, and the systems of border integration,” he said.

Araújo added that in disputes over territorial sovereignty, “it is very important that we maintain communication and that when an incident exists … we remain in communication and always solve the problem by way of diplomatic channels.”

The Colombian minister referred to Venezuela’s accusation two weeks ago that Colombian troops had crossed the border into the Venezuelan state of Apure without permission. Colombia denied this, saying a river in the area would have made it “practically impossible” for Colombian troops to cross.

Last Saturday, President Hugo Chávez announced that Venezuelan troops had killed a Colombian “subversive,” in an armed confrontation at an unspecified location along the border. “They fired at each other and one [member] of the subversive group died,” the president told a gathering of members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Chávez said it was unclear whether the person who died was a paramilitary or a guerrilla, but that the incident shows how Venezuela “is profoundly affected by the internal conflicts that Colombia has,” which cause “subversion, delinquency, drug trafficking, contraband” in the border region.

Diplomatic tensions between Venezuela and Colombia increased when Colombian armed forces bombarded an encampment of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) inside Ecuadorian territory last March.

Since then, Colombia has claimed that computer files seized during the raid reveal that Venezuela financed and Ecuador provided refuge for the FARC. Venezuela and Ecuador have assured that their only relations with the FARC, which Colombia and its ally the United States consider a terrorist organization, have been for the negotiation of hostage releases.

A recent investigation by the International Police organization INTERPOL found “no evidence” of tampering with the computers during the month they were in U.S. and Colombian custody. INTERPOL did not evaluate whether the files substantiate Colombia`s accusations against Venezuela and Ecuador.

Maduro met Sunday with the Ecuadorian Foreign Relations Minister, María Isabel Salvador, regarding the accusations. According to Salvador, the two agreed that “obviously those documents do not have any validity” because the evidence was not properly handled and was seized during an illegal raid. This point had been previously asserted by the Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal of Justice.
OAS to Examine FARC Connection to Ecuador

Sunday, Ecuador made a formal request that the OAS carry out an independent investigation of the INTERPOL report.

“Ecuador has asked the OAS to investigate all the information found in those computers,” Salvador declared. She added that the OAS should “determine everything that must be determined.”

According to Salvador, Ecuador has a “clean conscience” because, like Venezuela, its only relations with the FARC were for the liberation of hostages, and the country “will continue doing it in any process that brings the unconditional liberation of hostages retained by the FARC.”

Similarly, Maduro declared that Venezuela is “always willing to help peace in Colombia,” and recounted how the Venezuelan government has been repeatedly invited by France and by the family of the FARC’s highest profile hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, to negotiate hostage releases.
The president of the Colombian Supreme Court, Javier Ricaurte, said he had solicited the computer files from the Colombian Attorney General, Mario Iguarán, more than a month ago but had not yet received them. So far, Ricuarte has only received copies of files related to investigations of members of Colombia`s opposition.

OAS General Secretary José Miguel Insulza said Friday that the three-day OAS Summit, which began Sunday, would be “the continuation” of diplomatic meetings to resolve the regional crisis sparked by Colombia’s attacks in March, but the OAS will not pressure either Venezuela or Colombia to renew diplomatic relations.

“We are not going to pressure. We are facilitators,” Insulza said. “No one is going to ask them to be friends again but we hope that in some moment they shake hands and leave the conflicts behind.”

Addressing the general OAS assembly Tuesday, Maduro said the solution to the conflict in Colombia should come from within Colombia, with cooperation from the rest of Latin America. He encouraged Latin American countries not to fall for “the intrigues that the empire [of the United States] is trying to plant in our countries, with only one objective: to look for a grand conflict among brotherly peoples such as those of Venezuela and Colombia.”