Venezuela, Colombia strain to patch over tensions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 11:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:11pm

The presidents of Venezuela and Colombia on Monday strained to paper over tensions laid bare by the disputed election of Hugo Chavez’s handpicked successor earlier this year.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos infuriated Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro when he hosted the opposition candidate who had challenged Maduro’s electoral victory in April.

The dispute over the election came after years of often tense relations between the two countries. Colombia is the closest US ally in the region, while Venezuela under Chavez championed a resurgent left and slammed US “imperialism.”

But on Monday Maduro insisted that despite the differences between the countries’ “two systems” - Colombia’s market-based economy and Venezuela’s socialist populism -- “the only way forward we have is peace and prosperity.”

Though welcomed with military pomp in the steamy river town of Puerto Ayacucho, Santos made no public remarks during the visit.

But once back on his country’s side of the river in Puerto Carreno, Santos said he hoped the neighbours would work together “united ... on some rules of the game.” He did not offer further details.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elias Jaua had told reporters the meeting would be a resetting of bilateral relations, but Santos’s brief remarks indicated that tensions remain high.

Colombia is trying to negotiate an end to Latin America’s longest-running insurgency and is keen to insure that Venezuela keeps its distance from left-wing Farc rebels.

Maduro said on Monday he supports the peace process and that the resolution of the half-century-old conflict would bring “supreme happiness.”

US President Barack Obama has yet to acknowledge the razor-thin victory of Maduro in the April 14 presidential election, held weeks after Chavez succumbed to a two-year battle with cancer.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who met with Santos in May, has vowed to contest the vote in international forums and has been touring the region trying to rally support.