SANTO DOMINGO – Dominican President Leonel Fernandez has agreed to mediate a dispute between the governments of Venezuela and Colombia stemming from the latter’s basing deal with the United States, the office of the president said Wednesday.
Fernandez said he accepted a request made by Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe at a private meeting held during the 19th Ibero-American Summit, which concluded Tuesday in Estoril, Portugal.
The Dominican president announced his decision in France, where he is on an official visit.
Fernandez said the Dominican Republic, “due to its geographical position and its friendship with its neighbors, has been a mediator in regional conflicts on other occasions.”
“We maintain very close ties of friendship with (Communist) Cuba, (socialist) Venezuela, but also with (conservative governments in) Colombia, Panama, in other words, with all the countries in the region, which has allowed us to play a mediatory role in solving political and diplomatic disputes that have come up in the region at different times,” Fernandez said.
Speaking to some 25 members of the French lower house’s foreign relations committee, Fernandez referred to a diplomatic spat last year involving Colombia, Venezuela and leftist-led Ecuador.
That dispute stemmed from a March 2008 Colombian bombing raid on a clandestine camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group in Ecuadorian territory, an attack that killed 25 people, including rebel second-in-command Raul Reyes.
Ecuador – angered over the violation of its sovereignty – broke off relations with Colombia, and Quito and close ally Caracas responded by sending troops to their respective borders with Colombia, raising fears of a military conflict.
But Fernandez noted that tensions were reduced at a Rio Group summit a week later when he persuaded Uribe, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega to reach a testy compromise and end the crisis.
At this time, he added, “we’re beginning to establish a (process of) mediation between Colombia and Venezuela” to resolve a new dispute stemming from a deal signed by Bogota and Washington in late October to give U.S. troops access to at least seven Colombian military bases.
Fernandez noted that the basing deal “has not been well received (by Caracas) and is interpreted as a threat to Venezuelan territorial integrity.”
Chavez has threatened to cut off imports from Colombia if Bogota does not back out of the agreement, a significant threat given Colombia’s exports to Venezuela made up a disproportionate share of the nations’ $7 billion worth of trade last year. EFE