Mediator sees progress in Venezuela-Colombia spat


Colombia and Venezuela are making progress in negotiations to end a diplomatic dispute that has battered trade and unnerved the Andean region, said the Dominican Republic’s president, who is brokering talks.

President Leonel Fernandez met with Colombia’s foreign minister and trade representatives and said he would soon meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to try to negotiate direct talks with his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe.

The Andean neighbors, who have clashed on and off for a decade, are at odds over a Colombian plan to allow U.S. troops more access to its military bases, an accord Chavez says is part of a U.S.-led threat to his OPEC country.

“It’s been a positive first meeting,” Fernandez said. “This helps us with their Venezuelan counterparts and to try to reestablish full relations between the two countries.”

Fernandez, who brokered a handshake between the two leaders after a 2008 crisis, said he believed a meeting between Uribe and Chavez was possible. He planned to meet with Venezuela’s foreign minister in Santo Domingo on Monday.

Chavez, a fierce Washington adversary, last year slashed Colombian imports, beefed up frontier military presence and warned his army commanders to prepare for possible war with Colombia, a staunch U.S. ally in the region.

The socialist leader and Uribe openly clashed and exchanged insults at summit in February in Mexico, prompting the region’s presidents to step in and mediate an end to their dispute.

Chavez has since recently adopted a more conciliatory tone, offering the possibility of renewing trade, which was $7 billion before the dispute, the main complaint from his neighbor. Colombian exports to Venezuela plunged 70 percent last year.

The two governments have sparred since Chavez took office more than a decade ago. Venezuela often complains about spillover from Colombia’s long guerrilla war while Uribe’s government says Chavez has not done enough to stop Marxist rebels taking refuge over his border. (Reuters)

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