Colombia’s vice president on Tuesday blasted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for “making up” threats over base agreements with the United States to create an economic agreement that led to 170,000 jobs lost.
Vice President Francisco Santos, addressing members of Mercosur , a Regional Trade Agreement among South American nation, in Montevideo, said Venezuela’s restrictions are illegal and violate WTO rules.
“This is economic aggression, there is a trade blockade that has already generated 170,000 loss of jobs at the border in Colombia,” Santos said. “They are not members of the oligarchy, they are humble people who are losing their jobs because the economic embargo”. In response, Chávez fired back: “You must understand that we are free to shop around. We are not obliged to buy from you.”
“But do not accuse us of, that’s unreal,” the bellicose Venezuelan leader added.
Chavez, who has been feuding with Colombia for months, claims that an agreement between Bogota and Washington allowing the U.S. military to increase its presence at seven Colombian military bases poses a threat to his country. Colombia says the deal is only to help it fight the war on drugs and insurgents inside its territory.
Chávez recently has been amassing an arsenal of military hardware and repeatedly threatening war with Colombia.
Santos on Tuesday reiterated Colombia’s stance on the bases: to combat terrorism internally and and as a deterrent for other countries to invade. He said mutual respect must exist to overcome the diplomatic crisis that keep the two countries.
“In this crisis we have been respectful, we want to remain so. Because our respect and affection for the people of Venezuela, for their rulers, to their institutions, forces us to act that way, we must act as firefighters in the middle of a fire and not arson putting gasoline on the fire,” Santos said.
A brief tit-for-tat occurred between the two leaders, however Chavez one point downplayed his earlier saber-rattling rhetoric. Our common challenge is integration rather than conflict,” said Chavez, apparently agreeing with Santos.
Santos reminded that Colombia has not made any offensive military weaponry, and Colombia would never undertake aggression or hostile acts against any country in the region. He also stressed that Colombia has made many multiple treaties and agreements with Mexico, and Mercosur member countries, while again stressing for a diplomatic solution to the economic crisis with Venezuela.
“It is clearly against integration, the main theme of this assembly,” Santos said. “As in other issues in our relations with Venezuela, we encourage the amicable settlement through dialogue and understanding.”
On another note, Santos also responded to Colombia’s support for the Honduran elections that placed Porfirio Lobo in power over the deposed Manuel Zelaya. Colombia joined the United states in recognizing Lobo’s election, however other countries did not follow suit.
Santos said Zelaya’s ouster was a decision of the country’s supreme court.
“We can not condemn people to eternal solitude by an institutional problem,” Santos said.