Venezuelan and Colombian Presidents Mend Fences

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez and Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe reconciled and said they “moved on” to overcome differences, following a two-hour private meeting on Friday.
Presidents Chavez and Uribe hold a press conference in the peninsula of Paraguaná, following their two-hour private meeting (Juan Carlos Solórzano/Prensa Presidencial)

July 12, 2008 (— Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez and Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe reconciled and said they “moved on” to overcome differences, following a two-hour private meeting on Friday.

Chavez said the meeting, which took place in the Venezuelan peninsula of Paraguaná, “started and ended well.” The meeting covered not only the recent differences between the two presidents over Venezuela’s supposed support for the Colombian guerilla group the FARC, but also touched on the various agriculture and energy cooperation agreements between the two countries.

“We had a frank and warm conversation where we completely moved on [past the earlier differences],” said Chavez in a press conference following the meeting, adding, “With the force with which we began this new phase, I am sure we will recover lost time and confront the common challenges.”

Uribe responded in kind, saying, “We are equals, we are brothers in history, in the present and future, and this reality facilitates everything.”

The two nations would continue to work together, said Uribe, “in a holistic agenda at the level of two countries that together have a population of around 71 million inhabitants.”

The foreign ministers of the two countries would meet in two months to begin discussing that agenda, which would involve a discussion of economic and commercial relations.

Despite the warm words, observers noted that the two presidents were more distant towards each other in the past and did not embrace each other when photo-journalists called on them to do so.

Uribe said that during the meeting Chavez reminded him that one of the main reasons for the chilling of relations between the two countries was because Uribe publicly took away Chavez’s role as mediator, instead of informing him of major developments in private first, as they had agreed to do.

“In this cordial, frank, and warm climate [Chavez] complained to me for not having called him about the suspension of the mediation [with the FARC] and I accept that,” said Uribe. “It is good to say this in public,” he added.

“And [Uribe] asked me, ‘Why did you treat me badly?’” said Chavez. “I felt very hurt,” chimed-in Uribe.

Relations between Venezuela and Colombia, which had mostly been very friendly during the presidencies of Chavez and Uribe, almost broke off when Uribe suspended Chavez’s role in the mediation effort for a humanitarian accord in the Colombian government’s conflict with the guerilla group FARC at the end of 2007. Then, when Colombia raided a FARC encampment in Ecuador, on March 1, 2008, Chavez mobilized the Venezuelan military to the Colombian border, so as to prevent a similar action from occurring in Venezuelan territory.

A meeting of Latin American heads of state during the Rio Group Summit, a week after the raid, lowered tensions between Colombia and its neighbors when Uribe promised not to stage a similar action into neighboring territory again.

Shortly before the scheduled meeting, Chavez criticized one of his coalition partners, the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) for organizing protests against Uribe’s visit. The PCV defended its call for the protests, though, saying that the Uribe represents a “narco-paramilitary” government. The protests, though, which were not cancelled, drew small crowds.