Colombian Presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos told the Colombo-American Chamber of Commerce in Miami Tuesday that even though he and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are “like water and oil,” if elected, he will “do everything possible to maintain the best relations” with Venezuela.
Santos said that as president he would attempt to find “a balance” with Chavez.
Chavez and Santos have a history of strained relations, with Chavez calling the former defense minister “an enemy of Venezuela” and a “threat to the peace of South America” in March 2009.
Santos reiterated Colombian President Alvaro Uribe‘s stance that Colombia must maintain a “policy of prudence” with Venezuela, so as not to engage in “insults or provocations” with the socialist nation.
“When leaders fight, those who pay for it are the people. There will be no provocations on my part and I will do everything possible to maintain the best relations because that is what the Colombian people need,” Santos said.
Santos said that fractured diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Colombia “have had a great effect on both economies,” but added that he hoped that trade between the two nations would soon be re-established.
Chavez said last Friday he hopes Colombia’s next president will “respect the sovereignty” of its neighbors, and that diplomatic relations will remain frozen until a new Colombian government is in place later this year.
Venezuela cut diplomatic and trade relations with Colombia last year, after Colombia signed an agreement with the U.S. that allows the Americans to use Colombian military bases and civilian airports for counternarcotics and counterterrorism missions.
Severed ties have dramatically the neighboring countries’ $7 billion trade, with Colombian exports to Venezuela plunging 70% in 2009.
Colombia and Venezuela have intermittently locked horns since Chavez took office more than a decade ago. Venezuela often complains about spillover from Colombia’s long guerrilla war, while Uribe’s government says Chavez has not done enough to stop FARC guerrillas from taking refuge over his border.
Recent opinion polls indicate that Santos is the most popular candidate for Colombia’s upcoming May presidential elections.