|Venezuelan President Chavez and Colombian President Uribe held a joint press conference in Caracas.|
Caracas, February 15, 2005—Colombian President Alvaro Uribe arrived to Caracas early this morning for a highly anticipated meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in which it was announced that their diplomatic crisis was overcome. In a press conference held shortly after the meeting outside the presidential palace of Miraflores, Chavez called the meeting “constructive” and announced that “we have revised the economic agreements of commercial cooperation; we have revised the latest events during the course of the past few weeks...and we have decided to turn the page in order to continue to work together.”
The kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, the "foreign relations" minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), brought on the worst diplomatic dispute between the two nations since 1987 when a Colombian warship entered Venezuelan waters. On December 13th, 2004, according to Venezuelan officials, Colombian authorities bribed Venezuelan national guardsmen and police officers to abduct Granda outside his apartment in downtown Caracas.
In response to what Chavez called a breach of national sovereignty and international law, the Venezuelan president withdrew his ambassador to Bogotá, suspended bilateral projects such as the construction of a 1,000 kilometer long (625 miles) gas pipeline between the two nations. With the assistance of several Latin American presidents, including Cuban President Fidel Castro, as well as the Venezuelan and Colombian foreign ministers, a dialogue was established.
Originally scheduled for February 3rd, the meeting was postponed when Uribe came down with an ear infection, forcing him to cancel both his meeting with Chavez as well as an official visit to Europe. The Colombian President was accompanied by his doctor.
After affirming that all difficulties could be overcome with a frank and constructive dialogue, the Uribe stated that it is necessary to have constant communication between the ministers and different agencies in charge of security in both nations, in order to strengthen the fight against terrorism and insurgents and to avoid diplomatic impasses such as the Granda affair. “We need more direct communication and less communication through the media; then we can move forward and I am sure that everything will turn out better,” noted Uribe.
Uribe pointed out that in the Venezuelan-Colombian border, which stretches over 1,400 miles (2,200 kilometers), it is inevitable that incidents occur, but they are overcome with good will and close relations between nations. The Colombian Head of State recognized that the so-called guerrilla problem creates “difficulties with the neighbors of Colombia.” He acknowledged that the Colombian conflict must be resolved in Colombia.
Chavez reiterated that Venezuela “is not a sanctuary for guerrillas, terrorists, or narco-traffickers,” and that his country rejects all kinds of terrorism “without making distinctions.” He added that Venezuela has twice the number of troops along the border with Colombia compared to six years ago when he first took office.
Minister of Communication and Information, Andrés Izarra reaffirmed that currently there are more than 20,000 Venezuelans monitoring the Venezuelan-Colombian border, in four theaters of operation, adding that Venezuela is investing resources in the border for defense and protection of the country, so that the internal Colombian conflict does not spill across the border.
When asked if he believed that Venezuela harbors terrorists, Uribe responded that “he was sure that with prudence and with the support of all involved parties... these declarations between the United States and President Chavez can be overcome.”
In response to the same question, Chavez said that there are sectors within Colombia and Venezuela, as well as in other countries, that allege that he “has some type of commitment with violent groups,” in order to damage relations between Venezuela and Colombia. “I have no doubt that this resource is used by those who do not want our friendship or our unity.” Chavez warned that “if someone, somewhere, were interested in disturbing our relations...what they are going to find is a will of two nations without limits to overcome adversities in order to strengthen our united force.”
Making Up for Lost Time
Both presidents reviewed economic agreements that were put onhold as a result of the diplomatic crisis. Chavez pointed out that they would take advantage of the lost time to “accelerate the agreements that had been put on hold.”
Among the projects that are being resumed are the gas pipeline, the sale of Venezuelan gas to Colombia, and the free flow of coal from Colombia to Venezuela.
Chavez went on to announce that Venezuela wants to invest in Colombia and encouraged both nations to work to convert Latin America in a worldwide energy power.
During the press conference, Chavez announced that Uribe had accepted the proposal to hold a conference with Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva, the President of Brazil, in order to evaluate areas of common interest between the three nations. “The three of us are going to meet during the upcoming month of March... to revise three-way agreements in energy, petroleum, and coal,” he stated. The Venezuelan President said that Lula “would be delighted” if Colombia committed itself, alongside Venezuela and Brazil, to the creation of the business “Carbosurámerica” (South American Coal).