The New York Times
November 26, 2007
CARACAS, Venezuela, Nov. 25 — Venezuela and Colombia moved toward a diplomatic crisis on Sunday after an exchange of insults between President Hugo Chávez and his Colombian counterpart, Álvaro Uribe.
The spat threatens thriving trade between the countries, which are governed by ideological opposites who had cultivated a surprisingly warm political relationship. Mr. Chávez said he was putting ties with Colombia in the “freezer,” after Mr. Uribe’s withdrawal of support last week for his mediating role with Colombian guerrillas.
The Venezuelan president, speaking on television, described Mr. Uribe’s attitude as the equivalent of a “brutal spitting in the face,” and called him a “liar.” Mr. Uribe, the Bush administration’s top ally in South America, responded by accusing Mr. Chávez of legitimizing terrorists and advancing ambitions of “assembling an empire.”
Tensions between the countries have been rising as Venezuela prepares for a Dec. 2 referendum on a proposal by Mr. Chávez for a sweeping revision to the Constitution that would abolish presidential term limits.
Supporters of Mr. Uribe have similarly proposed legal changes that would allow him to run for a third term. Both leaders have presided over robustly growing economies in recent years, with Colombian companies in particular benefiting from rising exports of food and manufactured goods to Venezuela.
But both could also use some distraction from domestic travails. Opinion polls released here this weekend show Mr. Chávez’s reform proposal trailing among likely voters. And Mr. Uribe has recently faced criticism over revelations of ties of some of his political supporters to drug-trafficking paramilitary death squads.
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