Colombian presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos said Thursday that if Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is ready for a dialogue with Colombia, then as president Santos would be happy to receive him.
“It would be very welcome. If President Chavez changed his opinion, and now is ready to sit down and talk, I will be the first to welcome the initiative,” Santos said in response to a comment by Chavez that he is “ready to turn the page” in his relationship with Colombia.
“It is an important advance… If one can respect differences there can be a cordial relationship… It is what I have been asking for for a long time,” Santos added.
Last week, Chavez said that he wants to repair strained relations with Colombia, proclaiming that he hopes a breakthrough will be possible regardless of which candidate wins the neighboring country’s presidential election on May 30.
But the socialist Chavez, who has been fiercely critical of Colombia’s outgoing conservative president, Alvaro Uribe, added that any effort to end the diplomatic conflict won’t be possible unless Colombia’s next leader fully respects Venezuela’s government.
Chavez has also been highly critical of Santos, calling him a “wolf dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood,” because of the way he is “going around searching for votes.”
The Venezuelan president said that Santos, Colombia’s former defense minister, would be a threat to the region if elected president.
Relations between Venezuela and Colombia have been rocky for years, but frictions worsened in recent months over Colombia’s agreement to give the U.S. increased access to its military bases – a deal that Chavez calls a threat to Venezuela.
Colombia, meanwhile, alleges that Chavez’s government has allowed Colombian rebels to take refuge inside Venezuela. Chavez has repeatedly rejected the accusations.