Colombia’s new President Juan Manuel Santos and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez made the first steps towards restoring broken ties, as Chavez landed Tuesday in the Colombian port of Santa Marta for a historic meeting that could mark a warming of the conflicted relationship between the neighboring countries.
The two men, who have traded insults in the past, both signaled their wish to improve relations.
Chavez said “I still love Colombia. I am here because I want to show my love for Colombia … We come to rebuild what has fallen to pieces.”
Santos affirmed earlier statements by his Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, saying that he has the best intentions to fix relations with the neighboring country.
“We are here in this historic city and we are going to an equally historic place to seek the re-establishment of relations between the two brother countries, we hope that an advance be achieved and re-established on a firm and long lasting basis,” Santos said.
The Colombian president added that he went into the meeting with “optimism but without wanting to generate huge expectations. By the end of the meeting we will know if we have made wiser decisions.”
“We will do everything in our power, we will seek better relations each and every day … I ask God and the liberator that they inspire us so that this meeting produces positive effects,” Santos added.
The leaders stood side by side in front of a red carpet while both countries’ national anthems were played, before leaving the crowds behind to begin their private meeting.
Holguin said Tuesday that the restoration of Colombia-Venezuela ties depends on the nations’ presidents reaching an agreement in Santa Marta.
“The meeting will be to revise issues that are on the table. If there is an agreement between the presidents, relations will be established. What happens will depend on the dialogue. The meeting is precisely for that,” said Holguin.
Venezuela officially broke ties with its neighbor in late July, following Colombian allegations before the Organization of American States that the Chavez government tolerated Colombian guerrillas within its borders.
Trade between the two nations has been suspended for over a year, following tensions over Colombia’s cross-border raid in Ecuador and Bogota’s signing of an agreement to let the U.S. use its military bases.
Colombian businesses have felt the squeeze of the trade ban, with Colombian exports to Venezuela down an estimated 70%.
Santos and Chavez are meeting in the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, Santa Marta, on the spot where liberator Simon Bolivar died in 1830.
Chavez landed at Simon Bolivar airport at midday and traveled directly to meet with Santos. The Colombian president arrived in Santa Marta in the morning, accompanied by Holguin and other ministers.