CARACAS – President Hugo Chavez announced on Thursday that Venezuela was breaking diplomatic relations with Colombia over Bogota’s claims that his government is sheltering Colombian rebels, accusations denied by Caracas.
“For dignity’s sake, there is nothing left for us but to totally break diplomatic relations with sister Colombia,” Chavez said in nationally televised remarks.
He spoke after Colombia’s ambassador addressed an emergency meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States convened to hear Bogota’s latest allegations against Venezuela.
Besides breaking diplomatic links, Chavez said he put military units guarding the border with Colombia on “maximum alert” against the possibility that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe might order an attack.
Uribe, who will step down next month after eight years in office, “hates Venezuela,” Chavez said.
“We hope that the president-elect (Juan Manuel Santos) contributes to Colombia’s returning to the path of reason and contributes so that things even more serious don’t occur in the coming days,” the leftist Venezuelan leader said.
“Uribe is a threat to peace before turning over the government because he’s capable of anything, including of ordering that a phony (Colombian rebel) camp be set up in Venezuela in order to bomb it and provoke a war,” Chavez said.
He said he made the decision to break relations after listening to the presentation of Colombian Ambassador Luis Alfonso Hoyos before the OAS panel in Washington.
Hoyos, who showed photographs of alleged Colombian rebel outposts in Venezuela, said Caracas was allowing some 1,500 rebels to shelter in its territory.
Demanding that Caracas take action, the ambassador called for an OAS delegation to visit Venezuela to verify Colombia’s allegations.
“Uribe wants to destroy everything as he goes, because he has failed as president,” Chavez said. “He wants to bang on the table before he leaves.”
Chavez said he was confident that Santos, though a conservative like Uribe, wanted better relations, and he suggested bilateral talks could begin after the new president takes office Aug. 7.
The Venezuelan also said he didn’t think Santos had anything to do with the latest volley of accusations from Colombia.
OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza reacted to the rupture of diplomatic relations by urging Venezuela and Colombia to allow tempers to cool and seek a route to resolving their differences.
He also offered the “good offices” of the OAS, while stressing that any mediation effort could proceed only with the approval of both Bogota and Caracas.
The OAS chief pointed out that past regional crises had been overcome through talks, apparently referring to the blowup following Bogota’s March 2008 raid on a Colombian rebel camp just inside Ecuador.
On that occasion, Ecuador broke ties with Bogota, while Quito and Caracas dispatched extra troops to their respective borders with Colombia.
The initial crisis was defused at a regional summit in the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador and Colombia are now in the process of restoring full diplomatic relations.
Marked by ups and downs for much of the past decade, Colombian-Venezuelan relations have been on a downward slide since last August, when Chavez ordered ties “frozen” after Bogota again accused his government of supplying weapons to Colombia’s main insurgency, the FARC.
The rift widened with the signing in October 2009 of a pact between Washington and Bogota giving the U.S. Armed Forces access to seven military bases in Colombia. EFE