Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Monday evening that he will not attend Tuesday’s Mercosur summit in Argentina, despite the fact that the Colombia-Venezuela crisis has been bumped to the top of the meeting’s agenda.
Chavez said his doctors had advised him not attend because he got wet and caught the flu. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro will represent him at the conference.
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said Monday that the conflict between Colombia and Venezuela “is a current issue and the presidents are not going to be shut out of this debate and this dialogue.”
Timerman had previously said that the crisis could be addressed in “informal conversations” held on the fringes of this week’s gathering.
However, after Maduro attempted to limit discussion on the crisis during Monday’s Mercosur session, saying it was an issue for the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Timerman countered that while Mercosur is primarily a economics and trade organization, relations between its member states are important.
A special UNASUR meeting was held in Quito, Ecuador last week to attempt to address Colombian allegations made before the Organization of American States (OAS) that Venezuela is harboring Colombian leftist guerrillas, but no agreement was reached. The crisis escalated following Colombia’s presentation to the OAS, with Venezuela breaking all ties with its neighbor over the accusations.
Tensions flared up even more over the weekend between Bogota and Caracas, after Chavez deployed troops to the Colombian border, claiming that the administration of Colombia President Alvaro Uribe had threatened his country with war.
In a bid to smooth ruffled feathers, both UNASUR Secretary General Nestor Kirchner and Brazilian President Lula da Silva will meet with Chavez and both the incoming and outgoing presidents of Colombia prior to the inauguration of Colombian President-elect Juan Manuel Santos on August 7.
Mercosur is a regional trade agreement between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and of which Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru have associate member status. Venezuela is in the processing of joining as an associate member.
Uribe will not attend the Mercosur summit either.