May 16, 2008
LIMA, Peru -- European and Latin American leaders sought to unite against poverty, global warming and high food prices on Friday, but their summit was clouded by a feud between Colombia and Venezuela.
The gathering came just a day after Interpol vouched for the authenticity of documents implicating Venezuela's Hugo Chavez in supporting Colombian rebels, which prompted Chavez to issue impassioned denials.
Peruvian President Alan Garcia opened the summit with an appeal for the nearly 60 leaders or top officials to set aside petty issues and focus on setting clear strategies in the struggle against poverty and global warming.
"It is imperative that what unites us take precedence in our meetings," Garcia said. "We leave aside, for the moment, what we disagree on."
But some disagreements are fresh and angry.
Interpol reported on Thursday that computer files suggesting Venezuela was arming and financing Colombian guerrillas came from a rebel camp inside Ecuador and were not tampered with, discrediting Venezuela's assertions that Colombia faked them.
The findings increase pressure on Venezuela's fiery, anti-U.S. leader to explain his ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Chavez on Thursday dismissed the report as "ridiculous" and he derided Interpol's secretary-general, Ronald Noble, calling him "a tremendous actor" and an "immoral police officer who applauds killers."
He denies arming or funding the FARC _ though he openly sympathizes with Latin America's most powerful rebel army _ and threatened on Thursday to scale back economic ties with Colombia because of the Interpol report.
"One of the big problems we have (in the continent) is the government of Colombia," Chavez said in brief remarks during a break in the summit Friday. "The show, the lies, the manipulation. The relations with paramilitary groups and drug trafficking. There are grave problems in Colombia."
In a radio interview in Lima, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he had no problems with Venezuela or Ecuador, countries for which he said he felt "the greatest affection, the greatest respect."
"The only thing we ask is that no one give shelter to terrorists," he said, adding his greatest problem as a leader is dealing with the FARC, a guerrilla movement that has existed for more than 40 years.
The Colombian attack March 1 on the rebel camp where the computer files were discovered prompted Ecuador's Rafael Correa, an ally of Chavez, to sever diplomatic relations with Colombia. Correa also furiously denounced the computer documents, which indicated that his government had dealings with the FARC as well.
Correa's justice minister, Gustavo Jalkh, insisted on Friday that the computer files "cannot have credibility" because the evidence had been mishandled.
During a European tour this week, Correa said he would consider restoring ties only if Uribe halts "Colombia's verbal aggression."
The three feuding leaders were meeting Friday for the first time since an uncomfortable summit in the Dominican Republic in March, when Uribe and Chavez embraced one another at the urging of Dominican President Leonel Fernandez. Correa also reluctantly shook Uribe's hand.
Friday's working sessions were closed to the news media, meaning any public displays of anger _ such as when King Juan Carlos of Spain told Chavez to "shut up" at a Chilean summit six months ago _ were unlikely.
At least one feud seemed to have calmed on Friday.
Chavez gave a kiss to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, apparently ending a verbal spat that erupted a few days before the summit.
"I have not come here to fight. It was a great pleasure to shake her hand. We gave each other a kiss," Chavez said. "I told her: 'If I said something harsh, forgive me. Here is my hand.'"
Merkel recently drew Chavez's wrath by saying he did not speak for all of Latin America and that leftist policies such as his were not the solution to the region's problems. He responded by accusing her party of sharing the ideals of Adolf Hitler.
Chavez also took the initiative to smooth relations with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who defended the king of Spain after the incident in Chile.
Television images showed him approaching Rodriguez Zapatero, who was seated awaiting the initiation of the summit. Chavez said a few words to him, Rodriguez Zapatero smiled and Chavez patted him on his right shoulder as he was leaving.