Merida, August 11th, 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with newly sworn-in Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday in the Colombian Caribbean city of Santa Marta, and agreed to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Venezuela ended relations with Colombia under President Alvaro Uribe after he accused Venezuela of protecting illegal Colombian guerrillas at a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) last July.
Santos was sworn in as the new president on Saturday, and although he served as defence minister under Uribe, he has said he wants compromise rather than confrontation with Venezuela.
Following the three hour meeting, Santos told press, “We’ve had sincere and open dialogue and I think we’ve taken a big step in re-establishing trust.”
“We’re not going to use any situation that came up in the past to build or destroy our relations in the future. We’re starting from zero, relaunching our relations in a frank and sincere environment, so that any doubt can be put on the table,” he said.
Chavez thanked Santos for the invitation to meet him in Santa Marta but recalled that when Uribe took office relations with Venezuela were also “very positive” and Chavez regretted how they had ended.
We have to take care of what we have established today, “and restore trust and respect”, Chavez said.
He also said that both presidents had promised to erase the word “war” from their discourse and added that he felt like he was in his own country in Colombia, “with all respect, I feel Colombian.”
Chavez promised not to tolerate Colombian guerrillas, “The government over which I preside won’t allow the presence of guerrillas in our territory.”
When questioned about the issue of the U.S. use of military bases in Colombia, Chavez responded, “Colombia, like Venezuela, is a sovereign country that can establish economic, social, or military agreements with any other country in the world. The only thing is – and it applies to both of us and we have ratified it in the declaration of principles – is that none [of those agreements] affect the sovereignty of a neighbour nor become a threat for a …neighbour.”
The two heads of state signed the declaration of principles after their meeting, with the aim of maintaining direct and respectful dialogue.
They also agreed to create five commissions that will advance bilateral relations between the two countries. A security commission will address the theme of “illegal groups” in the territories of both countries, another will look at any debt Venezuela owes Colombia exporters, another will evaluate joint projects to be carried out on the border between them, and another will concentrate on joint infrastructure projects.
Santos said Venezuela’s hope of a departure point to the Pacific Ocean through Colombia via river transport could be a reality, “it’s a benefit for everyone,” he said.
According to Chavez the two presidents also agreed to establish communication mechanisms and methods of coordination in the face any “information, gossip, reports, from anywhere or of any degree of seriousness”. Venezuela had labelled Uribe’s accusations and his government’s “evidence” at the OAS as defamation.
Chavez invited Colombia’s foreign minister to Venezuela to meet with his foreign minister on 20 August to form the commissions and, “so we can start working as soon as possible and re-activating trade”.
Nestor Kirchner, ex-president of Argentina and now General Secretary of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met with the two presidents individually beforehand to help facilitate the process of reconciliation, Radiomundial reported.
According to international press, Chavez received a very warm welcome by the people of La Lucha, Santa Marta, a poor area famous for its streets that flood when it rains. An Argentine paper, Clarin, said Chavez stopped the car parade to greet the people who held balloons and flags from both countries.
People chanted, “President, friend, Colombia is with you,” and “Commander: La Lucha on the path to struggle”.
It is likely that Venezuela will maintain the same ambassador to Colombia, while Santos announced that he was planning on appointing Jose Bautista as the new Colombian ambassador to Venezuela. Bautista has been minister for communications, president of Colombia’s Agricultural Bank, and mayor of Cucuta; Colombia’s key border city with Venezuela.