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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Headlines from the Western Hemisphere
- Two inmates were killed in a Ciudad Juarez prison riot Sunday.
- Citing financial problems, Mexicana de Aviación has suspended two daily flights between Mexico and the U.S.
- Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who has played a key role in negotiating the recent release of tens of political prisoners, will travel to the United States to receive an award from the Knights of Columbus.
- The U.S. Coast Guard returned 323 Haitian migrants detained over the weekend off the coast of the Bahamas.
- The National Hurricane Center announced that a storm system gathering off Central America has a 90 per cent chance of developing into a hurricane.
- A Guatemalan union leader investigating an illegal migrant smuggling ring was discovered murdered in his home Saturday.
- Five young men in El Salvador with suspected ties to the Mara Salvatrucha gang were killed Saturday.
- Somali pirates hijacked a Panama-flagged cargo ship Monday.
- Peru’s health minister said Monday an outbreak of plague had killed a 14-year-old boy and infected at least 31 people in the northern coast province of Ascope.
- An Organization of American States commission condemned the murder last week of human rights activist and Wayuu indigenous leader Luis Alfredo Socarrás Pimienta, and called upon the Colombian government to conduct a thorough investigation.
- A Chilean archbishop said that marriages performed under Argentina’s recently-passed same-sex marriage law were an “aberration”.
- Heavy rains at port cities in southeastern Brazil are hampering sugar exports.
- Miguel Piñera, younger brother of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, was sentenced to a fine and 50 hours of community service for hitting a Mini Cooper while driving drunk.
- According to his court testimony, Paraguayan soccer star Salvador Cabañas does not remember the January 25 attack in which he was shot in the head.
Image: Globovisión @ Flickr.