Colombia's new President Juan Manuel Santos is hoping to mend
relations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez days after outgoing
President Alvaro Uribe repeated the charge that Chavez harbors
Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez has never shied away
from flinging harsh rhetoric at perceived enemies, especially the
one next door: staunch US ally Colombia. But outgoing Colombian
President Alvaro Uribe's recent repetition of the charge that Mr.
Chavez harbors leftist Colombian guerrillas sent the fiery populist
over the edge.
Chavez said he had no choice but to cut off diplomatic relations
and deploy his military to the border. He canceled recent diplomatic
trips due to what he claims is a looming invasion from Colombia.
His rhetoric is being seen as an attempt to draw a line in the
sand as former Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos takes
over from fellow conservative Uribe. But the two countries, which
share a 1,375-mile border, have more at stake than mere goodwill.
They are economically interdependent.
Mr. Santos response was a reminder of the stakes: He immediately
set up today's face-to-face meeting in Colombia in a bid to cool
down the tensions and get bilateral ties on more solid footing.
Still, some say Chavez's reaction this time may have actually
cost him some ground.
"Chavez played it wrong. Instead of answering the question of
whether there are guerrillas [in Venezuela] ... he [accused]
Colombia of intervention and broke ties," says Mervin Rodriguez, an
international relations professor at the Central University of
Venezuela in Caracas. "Now Chavez is isolated."
Is Chavez supporting the FARC?
Chavez did not instigate the latest political battle between the
two countries, which have squabbled ever since Mr. Uribe took office
eight years ago.
Last month, Colombia presented evidence - including photographs
and maps - to the Organization of American States alleging that at
least 1,500 rebels are seeking refuge across the border in
Venezuela. Uribe has long accused Venezuela of protecting the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which emerged in the
1960s as a Marxist peasant insurgency and which Uribe has taken on
as the cornerstone of his presidency.
This is not the first time Chavez has put his country on high
alert. In 2008, he mobilized troops after Colombia raided a FARC
base in Ecuador. …