A xenophobic slur targeting Venezuelans by Colombia’s outgoing vice President spurred the latest clash between the two neighbors that have had tense relations for decades.
While presenting the latest batch of free houses for poor Colombians in one of the states neighboring Venezuela, Colombian Vice-President German Vargas stressed the free homes would not be made available for “venecos,” often used as a derogatory term for the neighbors.
While Venezuelan authorities expressed their rejection on the VP’s choice of words, Vargas defended himself, claiming that the word is common in [the border province] Norte de Santander and has no negative connotation for Venezuelan citizens.”
El gentilicio "Venecos" que utilicé es común en Norte de Santander y no tiene ninguna carga despectiva para con los ciudadanos venezolanos
— Germán Vargas Lleras (@German_Vargas) January 28, 2017
The truth is that in the border region, the word has several connotations, depending on the occasion, and can be used for Colombian with a Venezuelan parent.
However, away from the border, especially in Bogota where the VP is from, it is widely considered a derogatory slur.
According to Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, “the interpretation of the used demonym is not derogatory or insulting for everyone.”
Nevertheless, the foreign minister urged the presidential hopeful to “maintain a respectful tone that is not considered offensive by anyone.”
Canciller Holguín: "Hay que tener un lenguaje de respeto, que no sea de ofensa para ningún país" https://t.co/C7VAJfAJXW
— Cancillería Colombia (@CancilleriaCol) January 27, 2017
Vargas’ choice of words came after many years of tensions between the leftist-run Venezuela and the conservative-run Colombia, both traditionally considered sister nations because of their common past.
Caracas took no time to respond to what it considered an insult by one of Colombia’s top officials.
“Venezuela deeply regrets the hurtful and denigrating tone with which the second-highest authority of Colombia undermined our principles and pretend to be ignorant of the indestructible historic bond of brotherhood between our peoples.
Caracas also reminded Vargas that it has welcomes ‘millions” of Colombians who fled the war that has been waging in their native country since 1964.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR, some 170,000 Colombian refugees live in Venezuela. Millions have a double nationality.
Venezuela separated from “Gran Colombia in 1830 and has has numerous diplomatic clashes with its neighbor, particularly after electing a leftist President, Hugo Chavez, in 1998.