Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Venezuela and Colombia break diplomatic relations

News from Caracas that Venezuela will withdraw its ambassador from Colombia and "freeze relations" with its neighbor should be no surprise to U.S. residents and can even be seen as reassuring. The cantankerous disagreements between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former U.S. President George W. Bush reflected badly on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, given how well Chavez seemed to get along with others. Now, the Bush administration looks a lot better. Tensions began rising Monday between Venezuela and Colombia, a staunch U.S. ally, over Bogota's announcement that it had found weapons in the hands of Marxist rebels that had originally been purchased by Venezuela. "I've ordered to withdraw our ambassador from Bogota, to withdraw our diplomatic personnel," Chavez said in a televised Cabinet meeting, according to the Reuters international news service. "We will freeze relations with Colombia." Colombia's government has been battling FARC insurgents since the 1960s. Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said his government would investigate how the antitank weapons got to FARC but had no comment on the severing of diplomatic relations with Venezuela, Reuters said. Chavez called allegations that his country sold the antitank missiles to FARC a "big manipulation," Reuters said, and said Venezuela would import farm products from other countries. Venezuela and Colombia have a recent history of sour diplomatic relations despite billions of dollars in trade annually. According to Reuters, Chavez believes Colombia's invitation to host U.S. troops to fight drug trafficking is a threat to his government. But Chavez also needed to bolster his popularity, which has suffered in the past year as falling oil price crimped government spending, Reuters said. In 2008, the two countries massed troops along their long border after Colombia bombed a rebel camp in Ecuador.

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