July 22, 2010 11:31 pm

Chavez breaks diplomatic ties with Colombia

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President Hugo Chavez broke relations with Colombia on Thursday, after being accused of “continued and permanent tolerance” of leaders of Colombian Marxist guerrillas on Venezuelan soil.

The announcement came minutes after Colombia finished presenting evidence to the Organisation of American States that detailed the activities of Farc and ELN rebels in various camps in Venezuela.

“We are left with no option, for dignity’s sake, but to break diplomatic relations with Colombia completely,” said Mr Chavez, flanked by a grinning Diego Maradona, the Argentine footballer who was visiting Venezuela.

At the OAS special meeting in Washington DC, Colombia accused Venezuela of harbouring some 1,500 Colombian guerrillas, and provided detailed co-ordinates of the locations of their camps, as well as photographs and videos.

Luis Alfonso Hoyos, Colombia’s ambassador to the OAS, supplied video and photographic evidence to support claims of an “active and growing presence” of terrorist groups on the Venezuelan side of the border.

Video footage Colombia says was filmed in Venezuela showed the Farc leaders known as Ivan Marquez and Rodrigo Granda in a camp used for training guerrillas in kidnapping and explosive techniques.

Roy Chaderton, Venezuela’s ambassador to the OAS, roundly rejected the accusations, describing them as a “clear lie” and “malicious”.

“There is no evidence, there is no proof; those photos could have been taken anywhere, and we already know about those co-ordinates. They are very curious photos and many of them are dubious,” said Mr Chaderton.

He rejected Colombia’s request that the OAS send an international commission to investigate the sites where it alleges the rebel camps are, arguing that it would set a “curious precedent”.

Jaime Bermudez, Colombia’s foreign minister, told the FT that he and Mr Uribe had already raised their concerns about Farc presence in Venezuela in private conversations with several presidents and ministers from countries in the region.

On Wednesday, Francisco Proano, OAS ambassador for Ecuador, a Venezuelan rival, resigned his post, citing political pressure. In a statement, Mr Proano said Ecuador’s foreign ministry had asked him to postpone the special hearing of Colombia’s claims to “give dialogue a chance”.

While not hopeful that the OAS would offer any strong action – “We’ll hope, that’s all I can say” – Mr Bermudez said Colombia wanted the issue brought to the attention of the international community.

“Our main goal is for some of the country members and international community to be aware of this current situation and at the end what we would like to see in place is basically an effective co-operation coming from Venezuela.”

Before Mr Uribe brought these latest charges against Mr Chavez into the public sphere, Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president-elect, had appeared to be laying the groundwork for a thawing of relations between the two nations.

Mr Santos will take office on August 7, and had already arranged for a meeting between his incoming foreign minister Maria Angela Holguin and Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s foreign minister. Local analysts have suggested Mr Uribe aired the accusations to prevent any rapprochement.

Mr Chavez’s relationship with both Mr Uribe and Mr Santos has been tempestuous – in 2008 he even threatened to wage war on Colombia after it bombed a Farc camp in Ecuador. In August 2009 Mr Chavez put diplomatic and commercial relations “in the freezer” following Colombia’s decision to allow the US access to seven of its military bases.

As a result, Mr Chavez’s latest move may have little material impact, with diplomatic relations already de facto broken, while bilateral trade has plummeted by more than 70 per cent since the partial boycott of Colombian goods was implemented.

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