The recent Colombian claim that Venezuela is harboring guerrillas sparked speculation about tension between incoming President Juan Manuel Santos and outgoing President Alvaro Uribe over relations with Caracas.
Both British newspaper the Economist and Colombian newspaper Semana published editorials questioning the state of the relationship between the two men, after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accused the Uribe administration of trying to sabotage the relationship between himself and Santos through the public allegations that FARC and ELN guerrillas are operating in Venezuela.
According to the Economist, the president-elect faces a “bigger political problem” than leftist guerrillas hiding in Venezuela, in the form of “Mr Uribe’s attempts to box him in.”
The British publication suggests the current president “could not brook any cosying up to his nemesis in the east.”
Semana also cites relations between Colombia and Venezuela as “the main source of tension between the two presidents” and argues that “what is emerging is a kind of cold war with interpretations and justifications from both sides.”
As well as his management of foreign policy issues, Semana contends that Santos’ first appointments to his new government, including Maria Angela Holguin as foreign minister and Juan Camilo Restrepo as agriculture minister, have strained his relationship with Uribe.
Although neither Santos nor Uribe have publicly criticized each other, Semana maintains that “it is likely the tension will increase, the squabbles will multiply and a type of cold war will consolidate.”
Before the allegations were made public President-elect 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 the two men, 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.”
Santos refused to comment on the allegations, replying “I have nothing to say” when approached by reporters.
Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez denied that Uribe sought to damage Colombia-Venezuela relations.