Los Angeles Times
Novemb er 26, 2007
The Venezuelan, who is accused of legitimizing terrorists, calls the Colombian a liar after a hostage mediation attempt is scuttled.
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- Relations between Venezuela and Colombia took a dramatic turn for the worse Sunday as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe, a shameless liar, and Uribe retorted that Chavez was a "legitimizer of terrorists."
Stung by Uribe's abrupt cancellation Wednesday of his role as mediator between Colombia's government and leftist rebels, Chavez lashed out Sunday, saying he was putting relations with Colombia in the "deep freezer" and warning that economic relations may suffer.
"Why don't you show your face?" Chavez said, referring to Uribe in a televised speech. "President Uribe is lying . . . in a shameless, horrible, ugly way. I think Colombia deserves another president, it deserves a better president."
Uribe soon responded in kind, telling an audience in northern Bolivar state that the fiery Venezuelan leader was "fomenting an expansionist plan," referring to his political ambitions of regional influence.
"The truth is, President Chavez, you can't incite the continent as you do, talking one day against Spain, the next against the United States, mistreating one day Mexico, the next day Peru, and Bolivia the morning after," Uribe said.
Uribe also accused Chavez and leftist Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, who was facilitating contact with the leftist guerrillas, of being more interested in promoting "terrorist influence . . . than in helping us overcome the tragedy of the hostages."
The name-calling shocked analysts because relations between the two countries could have been described as amicable a few days ago, despite the political differences between the leftist Chavez and conservative Uribe.
Uribe abruptly withdrew his approval Wednesday of Chavez acting as a go-between in efforts to foster a humanitarian accord between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC. Chavez hoped to bring about the release of 45 political kidnapping victims in FARC hands in exchange for hundreds of suspected rebels in Colombian jails.
But Chavez broke protocol Wednesday afternoon by speaking directly with the Colombian military command, something Uribe had prohibited. That night a Uribe spokesman thanked Chavez for his efforts but said the breach had put an end to his mediation.
Economist Juan Carlos Echeverry, a Bogota-based economist with LatinSource consulting firm, said the impact of damaged cross-border trade with Venezuela would be grave and cost each side jobs. Colombia could be the bigger loser, as it annually exports nearly $4 billion in goods and services to Venezuela, while Venezuela sells $1 billion in goods and services here.
Colombia and Venezuela share a 1,300-mile border. Economic integration of the countries has accelerated with a joint natural gas pipeline under construction.
"What Chavez said was stupid and the way Uribe reacted was very hard, maybe too much so," said one Colombian analyst, who said the countries should act fast to patch up their differences. He requested anonymity because of the situation's sensitivity.
A chill in relations could also affect the estimated 1 million Colombians thought to live and work in Venezuela.
Chavez briefly cut commercial ties with Colombia in 2005 after an undercover group seized FARC commander Rodrigo Granda on Venezuelan soil and delivered him to Colombian authorities without informing the Chavez government. But relations were soon restored.