Latin America’s top U.S. opponent and closest U.S. ally will set aside their on-and-off feud for talks on Friday because, analysts say, each benefits politically from normalized relations.
The countries are key commercial partners, with some $6 billion in trade last year and Uribe says he expects to sign accords to link the Andean neighbors with two new railways.
For both presidents, “the interest right now is to lower the level of confrontation and strengthen relations in common areas, especially the economy,” said analyst Sadio Garavini, a former Venezuelan diplomat.
Relations sank to their lowest point in decades in March after Colombia attacked a rebel camp in Ecuador. Chavez responded by briefly dispatching troops to Venezuela’s border with Colombia, pulling his ambassador and threatening to cut back trade. He later restored relations, something Ecuador’s leftist government hasn’t done.
During a feud over Chavez’s mediation role with Colombian rebels, the Venezuelan president called Uribe a “pawn of the U.S. empire” and likened him to a mafia boss. “A man like that doesn’t deserve to be the president of a country — coward, liar!” Chavez said.
Colombia, meanwhile, accused Chavez of offering an open-ended loan of at least $250 million to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC — charges bolstered by documents that Uribe’s government said were retrieved from a laptop at the bombed guerrilla camp. Bogota officials also say Venezuela has long harbored several rebel leaders.
Chavez denied the accusation and Colombia’s ambassador to Caracas, Fernando Marin, said the laptop documents are not on Friday’s agenda.
Chavez made reconciliation easier for Uribe when he called on the FARC last month to disarm and give up its hostages — after previously urging world leaders to consider the FARC a legitimate army of insurgents.
Through Chavez’s mediation, the guerrillas freed six hostages earlier this year.
But the FARC said subsequently that it was done with unilateral releases. And then Colombia’s military rescued 15 rebel-held hostages last week, pushing Uribe’s already immense popularity to new highs.
“Uribe is strengthened internationally,” while “Chavez has realized he was riding the losing horse” and has expediently adjusted his stance toward Colombia, said Rafael Nieto, a Colombian analyst and former deputy justice minister.
Chavez is looking to shore up his political support ahead of state and local elections in November, and maintaining a conflict with Colombia could be unpopular among Venezuelans.
Uribe has his own political imperative for smoothing over tensions: trade.
“Uribe is defending the interests of the Colombian private sector, which has made important investments in Venezuela and which he has to protect,” said Adolfo Tayhardat, an analyst and former Venezuelan diplomat.
The talks — the first one-on-one meeting between the two since August — are being held at Venezuela’s Paraguana oil refining complex on the Caribbean coast. (AP)