Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered on Saturday to meet with Colombia’s new President Juan Manuel Santos to restore diplomatic relations broken over allegations that Venezuela was harboring guerrillas.
“I am prepared to turn the page completely and look to the future with hope,” Chavez said in a speech carried live on TV.
The socialist leader, who had a stormy relationship with Santos’ predecessor President Alvaro Uribe, offered to travel to Colombia if necessary to meet the new incumbent.
Santos took office just hours before Chavez’s speech, promising to prioritize fixing relations between the two Andean neighbors, whose dispute has hurt both their economies.
Repeating in public the words he hurled at Uribe in a recent behind-doors summit in Mexico, Chavez said he welcomed the “ex-president’s” departure from the presidency and blamed him entirely for the political rupture.
“Go to hell!” Chavez told Uribe, drawing cheers from a crowd at a rally in west Venezuela.
Chavez said, however, that if the Santos government repeated allegations that Venezuela was sheltering “terrorists” on its soil, then the reconciliation effort would die.
But “I am full of faith, hope and desires to work with the new government,” he repeated.
Santos was defense minister in the right-wing, free-market Uribe government and is viewed as a similarly reliable U.S. ally, in contrast to Chavez’s reputation as Washington’s most vocal critic in the region.
Both leaders, though, appear to think that their $7 billion trade is worth putting before ideological differences. (Andrew Cawthorne & Deisy Buitrago / Reuters)