Colombia’s President-Elect Sidesteps Venezuela Conflict

July 30, 2010

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 last Friday, he spoke about coffee and tourism, and how he wanted to maintain the same positive relationship with the Central American country as outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

“I hope our pastexperience 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 Chávez had just severed ties with neighboring Colombia, demanding that its diplomats leave his country.

Chávez took offense to a request submitted by Colombia to the Organization of American States (OAS) to prevent anti-government Colombian guerillas from circulating in Venezuelan territory.

Venezuela’s fiery head of state resisted the request and calling Uribe “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 antiterrorist treaties and resolutions of the United Nations and the 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 Venezuela, as well as with his country’s principal financial backer in the fight against drugs, the United States.

–Chrissie Long

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