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Monday, November 26, 2007
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the BBC: Chavez freezes ties with Colombia

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he has frozen his country’s bilateral ties with neighbouring Colombia.

The move follows the decision by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to end Mr Chavez’s role as a hostage negotiator with Colombia’s Farc rebels.

Mr Chavez said that the decision to end his mediation role was “a spit in the face” and denounced Mr Uribe as a liar.


In announcing the “freeze” in relations with Colombia, Mr Chavez compared the situation to his recent diplomatic row with Spain, which was triggered when the Spanish King, Juan Carlos, told him to “shut up” at a summit meeting in Chile.

“It’s like the case of Spain: until the king of Spain apologises, I’m freezing relations with Spain,” he said.

Which very much sounds like foreign policy made by fits of pique, rather than for raison d’état. To be fair, part of Uribe’s decision to remove Chávez also could be seen as personal as well:

correspondents say Mr Uribe, whose own father was killed by the Farc, became increasingly irritated by Mr Chavez’s apparent disregard for the proper diplomatic channels.

Photos had appeared of Mr Chavez posing with a Farc commander.

Then, earlier this week, Mr Chavez revealed that Mr Uribe had told him that he was prepared to meet Farc leader Manuel Marulanda.

This further angered the Colombian president, who said the conversation had been confidential.

Eventually, Mr Chavez was dropped after he defied a Colombian instructions not to be in direct contact with Colombia’s army chief.

I suppose it is understandable that one would want an envoy to respect certain rules of decorum, as well as privacy.

In regards to the talks with the FARC, I was pessimistic about them from the start, as there is a multi-decade track record to look at which indicates that the FARC were unlikely to capitulate on the hostage question. The only glimmer of a hope that I saw was that the FARC might see a deal with Chávez as a means of embarrassing the Uribe administration.

As far as whether they should have been allowed to continue, I would have thought it didn’t hurt anything to allow Chávez to continue to try, so I am not sure why the Uribe administration saw the need to cut them off. On the other hand, surely it is an internal matter for the state of Colombia to decide, not one for Chávez to dictate. As such, regardless of one’s views of the actions or the actors involved, it is rather odd that Chávez sees the matter as one that ought to affect Venezuelan-Colombian relations.

At the end of the BBC article there is a quote from a frustrated family member of a kidnap victim who states:

“Nothing touches this government - not the deaths, nor our mourning, nor the pain the families of the kidnapped live with.”

This struck me, as I have noted in my own research on Colombia that part of the problem is just the opposite: that many in the government have suffered direct and very personal loses that color their ability to make sound policy in regards to the violence. As noted above, Uribe’s father was kidnapped and killed by the FARC. Surely that taints his logic when it comes both to dealing with the guerrillas and likely also explains his clear sympathies with the paramilitary groups, many of which were founded with the mission (at least in part) of combating the guerrilla groups and exacting revenge for kidnappings. Indeed, one of the first high profile paramilitary groups was called “Death to Kidnappers” (i.e., MAS or Muerte a Secuestradores).

The whole parapolitics scandal has been driven in large part by the alliance of politicians seeking revenge on guerrilla groups via illegal ties to paramilitary groups.

So, sadly, the effects of the violence permeate the government far too much, rather than too little.

I say that not to defend any specific action or inaction by the Colombian government, but rather to simply note the issue at hand, which is of course, deeper and more complex than can easily be captured in a brief post.

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2 Responses to “Chávez Freezes Relations with Colombia”

  1. PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Advice for Uribe and Chávez Says:

    [...] From Greg Weeks in regards to the Colombia-Venezuela brouhaha I noted this morning: Right now the best thing would be for both presidents to stop issuing public statements calling each other liars, promoters of terrorism, etc. [...]

  2. Colombia: A PoliBlog Sideblog » Venezuela Recalls its Ambassador from Bogotá Says:

    [...] Part of the “freezing,” it would seem. Filed under: Relaciones Internacionales | |Send TrackBack [...]

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