On a multi-day visit through Mexico and Central America, Colombia’s President-elect Juan Manuel Santos avoided questions on the emerging conflict between his country and Venezuela.
When he touched down in Costa Rica, he spoke about coffee and tourism, and how he wanted to maintain the same positive relationship with the Central American country as his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.
“I hope our past experience with Costa Rica will multiply,” Santos said in a press conference on Friday night. “There are many issues on which we can work together, such as the environment, … economic activation, security. I hope that in the next few years we can continue to work hand-in-hand.”
But back home, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had just severed ties with Colombia, demanding that its diplomats leave his country.
Chavez had taken offense to a request submitted by Colombia to the Organization of American States (OAS) to prevent anti-government Colombian guerillas from circulating on the Venezuelan side of the border.
Venezuela’s fiery head of state resisted the request and called Uribe, his presidential counterpart in Colombia, “full of hatred” and a puppet manipulated by the United States government. He said he would put the Venezuelan military on “high alert” along the border and threatened to cut off oil exports to the United States.
The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, urged dialogue and a “calming of spirits.”
“I believe our countries have common objectives, and the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism is one of them, and the peaceful coexistence between our countries is another,” he said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said, “We think that it’s important for both countries to work to reduce mutual suspicion and to fully implement their commitments under applicable anti-terrorist treaties and resolutions of the UN and OAS. I don’t think that severing ties or communication is the proper way to achieve that end.”
But Santos, who is due to take office on Aug. 7, has ducked insistent questions from reporters on the topic. He inherits the prickly task of balancing relations with Colombia’s neighbor, Venezuela, as well as with his country’s principal financial backer in the fight against drugs, the United States.