Colombia’s foreign minister, together with her counterparts from Brazil and Ecuador, on Tuesday asked Venezuela to permit the Red Cross to visit an imprisoned opposition leader.
Leopoldo Lopez, the leader of the conservative opposition to Venezuela’s leftist government, was incarcerated over a year ago for instigating anti-government protests that resulted in the death of over 40 people.
The incarceration of Lopez and Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma led United States president to characterize the leftist South American country as an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
The move was met with rejection in South America, whose union of nations, Unasur, calling Obama’s characterization and the freezing of assets of top government officials “a threat to sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states.”
In an attempt to cool down the situation, the foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador reported that they made a “respectful insinuation” to Maduro, and that his response was that “he was going to think about it.”
Maduro was given absolute control by the governing majority of Venezuela’s assembly earlier this week.
The respectful manner in which the suggestion was made could be seen as sign that tensions have eased slightly among the international governments, most notably between the Colombia and Venezuela, whose diplomatic relations have been rocky in recent years.
In January, tensions between the neighboring nations skyrocketed when former Colombian President Andres Pastrana (Conservative Party) and former Chilean President Pinera were refused entry when they tried to visit Lopez in prison during a trip to Venezuela.
The former presidents called for Lopez’s release from prison, but Maduro accused the two former leaders of taking part in a coup plot against him and of supporting illegal groups in Venezuela.
Two neighbors’ rocky relationship
At the end of the administrations of former president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cut diplomatic ties with Colombia over allegations that he was supporting Colombia’s oldest rebel group, the FARC, which maintained a presence in Venezuela and other neighboring countries.
The breaking of ties caused a major collapse in trade between the two countries and put major economic pressure on the border regions that depend on bilateral trade.
When Santos took over the presidency in 2010 he immediately restored diplomatic ties with Venezuela, going as far as calling Chavez his “new best friend.”
The resumption of ties recovered the economic losses and allowed Venezuela to help Santos establish peace talks with the FARC with whom formal peace talks began in November 2012.
However, the recovered diplomatic relations also made Santos vulnerable to criticism by the hardliner Uribe who turned against Santos and continued his fierce opposition to Venezuela’s left-wing government.