Colombia-Venezuela Conflict Discussed At Mercosur Meeting; Chávez Will No Longer Attend

Venezuelan Foriegn Minister Nicolás Maduro spoke with Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timmerman at the Mercosur meeting on Monday.
Venezuelan Foriegn Minister Nicolás Maduro spoke with Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timmerman at the Mercosur meeting on Monday.
Venezuelan Foriegn Minister Nicolás Maduro spoke with Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timmerman at the Mercosur meeting on Monday.
Venezuelan Foriegn Minister Nicolás Maduro spoke with Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timmerman at the Mercosur meeting on Monday.

Today in Latin America

Top Story — A meeting of Mercosur, the South American regional trading bloc, has become the latest forum for a feud between the governments of Venezuela and Colombia.

Mercosur began at two-day meeting Monday in San Juan, Argentina, with the purpose of addressing trade issues and to sign a free trade agreement with Egypt. Though the meeting had little to do with the conflict between Venezuela and Colombia — Colombia is not a member of Mercosur and the organization’s mission is not related to regional security — the Paraguayan delegate, Héctor Lacagnata, raised the issue, saying that Mercosur should help find a solution.

Venezula’s foreign minister, Nicolás Maduro, said the conflict should be discussed in Unasur, an organization of South American nations that handles security issues, rather than Mercosur.

Maduro did discuss the conflict with Colombia, however, highlighting the negative role Colombia’s civil war has had on Venezuela. “We are a country that has been victimized by the war in Colombia,” Maduro said, adding that recent government estimates indicate 600,000 Colombians have arrived in Venezuela because of the war over the last eight years.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who was expected to attend the second day of the Mercosur meeting today along with several of the other members’ presidents, unexpectedly announced on Monday that he would no longer attend, Notimex reports. He did not provide a reason for his absence.

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela, who are governed by ideological polar opposites, have been strained since last year. The Colombian government accuses Venezuela of harboring leftist guerrillas belonging to the FARC, while the Venezuelan government has opposed a military agreement to allow the U.S. greater access to seven Colombian bases.

The Chávez administration has lashed out against the Álvaro Uribe administration’s accusations that Venezuela shelters the FARC. Venezuela, once the second-largest importer of Colombian goods, began substituting imports from Colombia one year ago.

Two weeks ago, the Uribe administration presented evidence to the Organization of American States that it said confirmed Venezuela’s support of Colombian guerrillas. In response, the Venezuelan government broke off diplomatic relations and sent troops to the border.

An emergency meeting of Unasur held last week to find a solution to the diplomatic crisis failed to produce a resolution.

Below is a video in Spanish from The BBC of some of Maduro’s comments.

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Image: Globovisión @ Flickr.

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