July 13, 2008
MARACAIBO, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denounced Colombia's defense minister Sunday as an obstacle to peace with his U.S.-allied neighbor, demanding the military chief be put "in his place."
Chavez reacted sharply to the defense minister's remarks about a meeting between Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to mend relations and end an on-and-off feud.
"If he were my minister, he would be dismissed by now," Chavez said of Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, in a televised speech. "He's a warmonger."
Santos had called Friday's presidential talks positive and suggested Colombia will be watching Chavez's stance toward leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Santos said Saturday that "what interests us is simply that these words spoken (by Chavez) against the FARC translate into actions and that they not only cooperate but also don't tolerate the presence of the FARC there."
Colombian officials have long accused Venezuela of harboring several rebel leaders. The issue didn't come up in Uribe's public remarks after their talks, and Chavez has denied aiding the rebels.
The Venezuelan leader accused Santos of trying to sabotage Venezuelan-Colombian relations on the orders of Washington, which Chavez opposes.
"He's the defense minister, and he wants to be president. He's a threat," Chavez said. He added that his message for Uribe is: "Let's turn the page, but put your defense minister in his place."
Uribe responded by issuing a statement urging Colombian officials to be prudent in their remarks about Venezuela as the two countries embark on "a new era of relations."
Chavez promptly thanked his Colombian counterpart, reading the statement aloud during a summit and saying, "This is good."
Relations between Colombia and Venezuela sank to their lowest point in decades in March after Colombia attacked a rebel camp in Ecuador. Chavez responded by briefly dispatching troops to the Venezuela's border with Colombia and temporarily withdrawing his ambassador.
Bogota, meanwhile, accused Chavez of offering an open-ended loan of at least US$250 million to the FARC _ charges bolstered by documents Colombia said were retrieved from a laptop at the bombed guerrilla camp. Chavez has denied the accusations.
Associated Press writer Vivian Sequera in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.