Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stated Thursday that he is prepared to meet with his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe, saying at a press conference, “Let’s sit down and talk like gentlemen.”
Chavez’s comment follows a shouting match with Uribe during a private lunch at the Rio Group Summit in Mexico on Monday.
When asked about the altercation, Chavez said it was regrettable but stressed that Colombia has a “permanent campaign” of hostility towards Venezuela.
“Colombia is trying to demonize Venezuela, the national government and Hugo Chavez,” the Venezuelan president said.
“We defend our position, and I reacted like I did because President Uribe was very disrespectful towards me and towards Venezuela.”
“We are always inclined towards peace, towards transparent relations with other countries … and more so with neighbors, because we must defend our sovereignty,” the socialist leader said.
Chavez reiterated the desire he expressed Tuesday for Venezuela to normalize relations with Colombia.
Diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela were frozen after Colombia signed an agreement last year with the U.S. that allows the Americans to use Colombian military bases and civilian airports for counternarcotics and counterterrorism missions.
Chavez believes the agreement undermines sovereignty in the region, and is its most outspoken opponent.
The border region has long been a source of tension between the countries, as Venezuela accuses Colombia of allowing right-wing paramilitary fighters to enter Venezuelan territory, while Colombia says the border is often crossed by left-wing guerrillas seeking refuge in the neighboring country.
Frozen diplomatic relations have adversely affected the Colombian economy, with exports to Venezuela down 79% in December 2009.