Colombia-Venezuela: Diplomatic Relations Severed after Puzzling Gambit by President Alvaro Uribe
Gaudin, Andres, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
On July 22, two weeks before President-elect Jose Manuel Santos was to be sworn in, Venezuela announced it was breaking diplomatic relations with its neighbor (economic ties had been frozen since 2009). The decision came after outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's administration denounced at a special session of the Organization of American States (OAS) the alleged presence of Colombian guerrilla groups in Venezuelan territory with the backing of the Venezuelan government. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez responded, saying that, "out of dignity, and with much sadness," his administration "had no other choice" but to make a predictable decision that only confirmed what had seemed inevitable for more than a week.
Brandishing documents that failed to convince most of those present, Colombia's Ambassador to the OAS Luis Alfonso Hoyos asserted that 1,500 guerrillas had set up camps in Venezuela, and he proposed creating a commission to inspect "the 39 sites" where they were. Hoyos said, "If Venezuela says that this is an invention, it should not fear our going to those sites."
His Venezuelan counterpart, Roy Chaderton, rejected the accusations and asked, "Why doesn't a delegation of many ambassadors visit the US military bases in Colombia?"
Thus began the final phase of a conflict that Uribe and Chavez never stop fueling.
Evidence fails to convince OAS
Hoyos showed maps, photographs, and video clips allegedly taken in camps in the Venezuelan state of Zulia, 23 km inside the border. Not only countries expressly friendly toward Venezuela (Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua) but also the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Guyana, Paraguay, Surinam, and Uruguay said they were not satisfied with the "evidence" offered by Colombia.
Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), told the Argentine daily Clarin that no one rules out that the photographs and satellite maps Colombia presented were "made in the USA." Isacson said, "Colombia does not have planes flying over Venezuelan territory or satellites capable of capturing those images. Therefore, where did they come from? They are a product of US intelligence."
An analyst quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA said, "Seldom has something as frivolous as what Colombia presented been seen in the OAS."
It was a defeat for the Uribe administration because, at OAS headquarters, and despite the stated US support, it was unable to convince the organization to come out against Venezuela and accept the validity of the evidence presented.
It was a victory for Venezuela because, with the authority of the OAS discredited, the issue moved to the Union de Naciones Sudamericanas (UNASUR), an organization in which Venezuela's friends play a prominent role and to which the US does not belong.
The situation allowed the Venezuelan president to assert that Uribe leaves his country "in the hands of the Yankees, which could mean that he could attempt some action, in the last days of his administration, that would lead to a war, which Venezuela would have to enter crying, but it would have to go. Uribe is responsible, sick with hate, a tool of Yankee imperialism who ends his term in office isolated on the continent, marching alone toward the trash heap of history."
Despite his hard-line posturing, Chavez left open the possibility of resuming relations with the future Santos administration. "We are open to a rapprochement," he said.
Days later, Chavez addressed Santos directly, inviting him to re-establish ties between the two countries as soon as "the great disruptive factor, the Uribe factor" disappears.
Chavez also addressed the guerrillas, whom he called on to demobilize "because these are not the times to win power through armed struggle."
Long history of animosity between presidents
Relations between the two countries have been minimal since March 2008, when the Colombian Army violated Ecuadoran sovereignty and bombed a clandestine camp of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), 30 km inside Ecuador, killing at least two dozen people, including a top FARC leader and four Mexican students(NotiSur, 2008-03-07. …