Colombian President Santos Meets with Venezuelan Opposition Leader

Venezuelan opposition leader, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who will challenge current president Hugo Chavez to the presidency in October, flew to Colombia on Wednesday where he took part in a “strictly” private meeting with the country's president, Manuel Santos.

By Rachael Boothroyd

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Capriles met with Santos in Bogota on Wednesday (noticierodigital)
Capriles met with Santos in Bogota on Wednesday (noticierodigital)
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Caracas, September 20th 2012 (Venezuelanalysis) – Venezuelan opposition leader, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who will challenge current president Hugo Chavez to the presidency in October, flew to Colombia on Wednesday where he took part in a “strictly” private meeting with the country's president, Juan Manuel Santos.

The meeting was announced on Tuesday and was reportedly a chance for the two men to discuss Capriles' prospective governmental plan for the country, business cooperation between the two nations, border security and the ongoing peace accords in Colombia.

“Relations with Colombia are very important for us and our goal will always be to deepen them,” said executive secretary of the opposition MUD coalition (Roundtable of Democratic Unity) Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, who recognised that it was “an unusual gesture” for the Colombian president to meet with a presidential candidate. “We greatly appreciate that he received a candidate,” he said.

Due to the private nature of the meeting, few details have been released to the press about what the two men discussed. Speaking briefly on the meeting from Bolivar state, opposition candidate Radonski thanked the Colombian president for the “gesture”, and stated that the two “brother countries” were “called on to strengthen their relationship”.

The meeting has sparked rumours that the Santos government may favour right-wing candidate Radonski in the presidential elections, although this has been denied by the Santos administration. Yesterday the Colombian government released a brief statement confirming that it was politically “neutral” towards the Venezuelan presidential elections, due to be held on October 7th.

“President Santos reiterated the neutrality of Colombia with respect to the electoral process developing in her neighbour country, at the same time he stated it was necessary to keep working in a harmonious manner in order to strengthen relations between Colombia and Venezuela,” read the statement.

Making reference to the recent peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the guerrilla group, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the statement also highlighted the important role played by the current Venezuelan government in “facilitating” the peace process, as well as the progress made in terms of security between the two nations.

Prior to the meeting between the two men, Venezuelan Vice-president of the Republic, Elias Jaua, said the Chavez government respected the Santos administration's judgement.

“It's a sovereign decision of the Santos government to receive any political leader in the world, for our part, the only thing we can do is respect this decision. Hopefully the conversation will recognise what is important for Venezuela and the world, which is his (Capriles) willingness to accept the results of what the people decide on October 7th,” said Jaua.

Although diplomatic ties were cut between Venezuela and Colombia during Alvaro Uribe's presidency in July 2010, relations greatly improved after Manuel Santos became president later on that year.

Santos has previously said that he considered Chavez to be a “force of stability” in the region. His statement was strongly criticised by MUD spokespeople at the time.