The New York Timees
July 12, 2008
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — It seemed like just yesterday that President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela was calling President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia a “pawn of the American empire” and comparing him to Don Vito Corleone, with Mr. Uribe lashing back by threatening to sue Mr. Chávez for the “financing of genocidists.”
But the name calling was put aside Friday when the two leaders met in Venezuela, trying to mend relations after months of bickering over issues ranging from Colombia’s claims that Mr. Chávez tried to finance leftist guerrillas to Venezuela’s ire over the possible transfer of an American military base to Colombia from Ecuador.
“Today begins a new stage,” said Mr. Chávez after meeting alone with Mr. Uribe for several hours in Paraguaná, an oil-refining center in northwestern Venezuela. They did no
Political analysts in Bogotá and Caracas attributed the encounter to growing economic concerns in both countries, with trade between Colombia and Venezuela valued at as much as $6 billion a year. Venezuela relies on Colombian imports of food, manufactured goods and natural gas, while these industries account for thousands of jobs in Colombia.
Rising inflation in both countries, meanwhile, has accentuated worries in Venezuela over food shortages and in Colombia over increasing food prices. There is also concern in Colombia over a decline in remittances from some of the estimated 4 million Colombians living in Venezuela.
“Uribe is a realist who knows that Colombia and Venezuela need each other,” said Myles Frechette, a former United States ambassador to Colombia.
“And for the United States, it doesn’t do a lot of good for this ally to be a pariah in the region,” he said, referring to fallout from Colombia’s cross-border raid in Ecuador on a guerilla camp.
Mr. Chávez’s invitation to Mr. Uribe, a staunch ally of the Bush administration, was an unexpected move. This week, he had to upbraid the Venezuelan Communist Party, part of his own political base, over plans to support protests of Mr. Uribe’s visit.
Mr. Chávez also called on Colombia’s FARC rebel group to lay down its arms. Colombia has used computer files recovered from the rebels to demonstrate Venezuelan support for the FARC, claims that have been disputed by Venezuela.
While they appeared stiff upon greeting one another on Friday, Mr. Chávez and Mr. Uribe both tried to appear prepared to reconcile, symbolically at least. Mr. Uribe gave his Venezuelan counterpart books about Simón Bolívar, the Latin American liberation hero at the heart of Mr. Chávez’s integrationist political philosophy, while Mr. Chávez offered Mr. Uribe a portrait of Bolívar.