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Venezuela & Colombia: Diplomatic crisis

By Veneconomy

18.01.05 | President Hugo Chávez has, inexplicably, provoked a confrontation with the Government of Colombia, one where he has much to lose and little to win; and apparently with no good reason.

The kidnapping of the FARC’s “Foreign Minister,” Rodrigo Granda, occurred on December 13. However, it was in January this year that President Chávez turned this incident into the worst diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela since the Caldas affair.

It seemed that, initially, it was in President Chávez’ interest to quietly put the matter behind him so as to avoid more attention being drawn to the cooperation and protection that his government is giving guerrilla groups. It is thought that two things annoyed him to such an extent that he took a strategically ill-advised offensive, challenging the Colombian Government and demanding an apology for the alleged violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty.

The first of these was the disclosure of the fact that members of the Venezuelan security forces took part in Rodrigo Granda’s kidnapping in exchange for a reward. Government deputy Luis Tascón estimates that the Colombian Government paid $1.5 million to the Venezuelan officers involved. And the second thing was the disclosure by the opposition that Granda had been granted a Venezuelan identity card during the Identity Mission and that the CNE even had him registered on the Permanent Electoral Roll, so entitling him to vote in regional elections and in the Recall Referendum held in 2004.

In his message to the National Assembly on January 14, President Chávez surprisingly suspended the projects and bi-national agreements that Venezuela has with Colombia, among them the construction of a multiple-product pipeline to the Pacific. He also stated that relations will not be resumed until President Uribe apologizes for having violated –as he understands it- Venezuela’s sovereignty.

Colombia’s response was not long in coming. That same day, in an announcement of nine well written and even better thought-out points, the Álvaro Uribe administration recognized the right of democratic peoples and governments to free themselves of terrorists and reaffirmed its decision to pay rewards leading to the capture of guerrillas and terrorists who threaten its territory anywhere in the continent. In its communiqué, Colombia also offered the Chávez administration the possibility of an elegant way out of this impasse, that of appointing a committee to study the matter. This committee would have served to stretch out the matter and allow time for the crisis to peter out, but the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not take up the proposal and its response points rather to a deepening of the crisis.

Analysts suggest, on the one hand, that the Uribe administration could take advantage of this situation to further strengthen the Plan Colombia and, on the other, that President Chávez could consolidate his leadership among the world’s radical leftist groups.

Everything points to this bi-national crisis continuing for some time to come.

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