During the inauguration of bicentennial festivities in Medellin on Monday evening, Colombia’s President-elect Juan Manuel Santos denied rumors that a rift was developing between him and his mentor, outgoing President Alvaro Uribe.
“With President Uribe we have an everlasting link, which is based on our infinite love for this country, in our mission to have a prosperous and peaceful country, from he and I fight, hand in hand, until we see our dream completely realized,” Santos said.
Addressing speculation in Colombia over the last few days about a developing rift between Uribe and his successor over foreign policy, the president-elect said, “I want to tell those who want to divide us, that they are not going to see it happen.”
Santos arrived in Medellin Monday night, after a meeting with Uribe in Bogota. During the meeting the two Colombian leaders reportedly took a united stance on relations with Venezuela, in the face of new evidence revealed by the Uribe administration that FARC and ELN guerrilla leaders are hiding out in Venezuela.
Colombia will present evidence – including photos and video footage – of the leftist guerrilla presence in Venezuela to the Organization of American States (OAS) on Thursday.
Santos concluded his speech in Medellin by thanking the Colombian people for electing him to continue Uribe’s work. The former defense minister said that Uribe will be remembered as the president that saved Colombia from a nightmare of violence.
Colombia’s recent claim that Venezuela is harboring guerrillas sparked speculation in both Colombian and international media about tensions between Santos and Uribe over relations with Caracas.
Before the allegations were made public, Santos had announced his intention to repair diplomatic relations with his neighbor.
Relations became strained between the two countries under Uribe’s administration, and Venezuela broke diplomatic relations altogether in 2009, after Colombia signed a pact granting the U.S. military access to seven Colombian army bases. Venezuela stated that it would not consider restoring relations while Uribe remained in office.
Despite earlier tensions between himself and Chavez, since Santos won the election there had been signs of a thaw. In his first press conference as Colombia’s president-elect, Santos acknowledged the Venezuelan government’s congratulations, which he said he “appreciates and values greatly, it is a positive first gesture towards the aim of restoring relations.”
Venezuela’s ambassador to Bogota, Gustavo Marquez, later announced that Chavez was willing to reopen dialogue with the incoming Colombian government and re-establish relations between the two countries.
In response Santos professed himself to be “very pleased” and said it would be “great news” if Chavez could attend his inauguration on August 7.
The allegations by the Uribe administration that the FARC are hiding out in Venezuela were interpreted by Chavez as an attempt to end this warming of relations. He said “this is nothing but the desperation of a group of the extreme right who surround Uribe and try to generate a major conflict to stop Santos and Colombia from establishing respectful relations with its sister Venezuela.”
Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez denied that Uribe sought to damage Colombia-Venezuela relations.