Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Colombia/Venezuela politics: Santos’s olive branch

Posted in News and Articles by politicalrisklatam on August 9, 2010

by The Economist Intelligence Unit, August 9th, 2010.

Colombia’s new president, Juan Manuel Santos of the centre-right Partido de Unidad Nacional (Partido de la U), faced several challenges as he began his four-year term on August 7th. Among his medium-term goals will be to reduce high unemployment, foment stronger economic growth, consolidate domestic security gains and combat corruption. His most immediate concern, however, is to mend fences with Venezuela, which broke diplomatic relations with Bogotá on July 22nd in an escalation of the hostility that have plagued bilateral relations for the last eight years.

Mr Santos’s popular conservative predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, and Venezuela’s radical president, Hugo Chávez, have long been ideological foes, and tensions erupted numerous times during Mr Uribe’s eight years in office. Relations worsened in the last two years as Mr Uribe authorised the expanded use of Colombian military bases by the US military, and also accused Venezuela of harbouring rebels from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in its territory.

Hostility spiked after the 2008 bombing and raid by Colombian soldiers of a FARC base camp in Ecuador. Ecuador’s government broke diplomatic ties with Bogotá after the incident, and Venezuela rushed troops to its border with Colombia. Last year, it also imposed restrictions on imports from Colombia. The ban on Colombian goods has severely disrupted Colombia’s export sales to Venezuela, which fell by 33.5% in 2009. Caracas has over the past two years issued threats of military action and several times reinforced the border with additional troops.

Then, in July at a meeting of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Colombia presented additional evidence of the presence of FARC guerrillas in Venezuelan border towns. This prompted Mr Chávez to suspend relations—a convenient move for him politically, coming just before Venezuela’s September legislative elections. (continue reading… )

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