U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela said Tuesday that if both Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attend the inauguration of Colombian President-Elect Juan Manuel Santos, it would be “a good step towards improving relations.”
Valenzuela said that Correa and Chavez’s joint presence at their Colombian counterpart’s swearing-in on August 7 would be “a good way to relax [tensions], to try to deepen and improve relations between the countries that have been strained in recent times.”
The U.S. official added that their joint attendance would help to increase confidence in relations and “lower possible conflicts” in the region.
Correa has already confirmed that he will attend the inauguration. Santos welcomed the presence of his Ecuadorean counterpart, calling it “a step in the right direction” for relations between the neighboring Andean nations.
Santos also said he was “very pleased” that Chavez had expressed willingness to reopen a dialogue with Colombia and attempt to re-establish severed ties between Venezuela and Colombia.
“God willing he will be able to attend” the inauguration, Santos said in reference to Chavez.
“It would big news for us and for that reason we are very happy to have initiated this foreign relations process on the right foot,” Santos said.
Under outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s relations were fractured with both of its neighbors. Ecuador broke ties in 2008, after the Colombian army carried out a raid on a FARC camp on territory, which Ecuador criticized as undermining its sovereignty.
Colombia and Ecuador began to re-establish relations in late 2009, but negotiations have been plagued by problems. Ecuador says that the reinstatement of official diplomatic relations is dependent of Colombia handing over information allegedly found in the archives of FARC leader “Raul Reyes,” who was killed in the 2008. Colombia says it can not hand over files because the prosecutor general’s office is using them as evidence.
Furthermore, Correa said Monday that Santos will be arrested if he visits Ecuador, due to a warrant issued for his arrest by an Ecuadreoan court, for the then-defense minister’s involvement in the 2008 camp raid.
A more recent scandal, which suggests that Colombian intelligence agency DAS may have conducted illegal surveillance on Correa, as well as other high profile Ecuadoreans, has put further strain on relation between the neighbors.
Venezuela broke relations with Colombia in 2009 when Bogota signed a pact with the U.S. allowing their troops access to seven military bases around the country. Venezuela viewed the agreement as a threat to sovereignty in the region, but has shown some signs of wishing to repair relations with incoming administration.