Venezuela, Colombia resolve diplomatic crisis
Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez and his Colombian counterpart US ally Alvaro Uribe have said they are starting a new phase in bilateral ties leaving behind months of a diplomatic crisis that put Latin America on the boil.
"From today on, begins a new stage" in Colombian-Venezuelan relations, Chavez said, while Uribe said the two presidents would order their respective foreign ministries to initiate a "very accelerated dynamic" to make up for lost time, EFE reported Saturday.
After a one-on-one meeting Friday for more than three hours at an oil refinery complex in this western town, the two leaders were smiling and joking when they appeared before reporters.
Venezuela, a leading oil producer and key supplier of crude to the United States, wants to link its oilfields with Colombian ports on the Pacific in order to export petroleum to China and other Asian markets.
"We want the gigantic trade to keep growing," Chavez said Friday, referring to the $6 billion in annual bilateral deals.
He said that Uribe also agreed to establish "more effective schemes of cooperation against drug trafficking."
Colombia is the world's top cocaine producer and a substantial quantity of drugs is smuggled through Venezuela.
Uribe stressed the potential for cooperation on agriculture and energy, while adding that projects should not only be financially profitable but also contribute to regional integration.
Though Uribe, a rightist US ally, and Chavez - Washington's biggest headache in Latin America - are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, both are populists given to strident rhetoric, and relations between Bogota and Caracas have been erratic during their tenure.
The chill in relations that apparently ended Friday goes back to last November, when Uribe withdrew his authorization for Chavez to mediate with the radical leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, on a proposed swap of hostages in rebels' captivity for jailed guerrillas.
Relations took a nosedive with Colombia's March 1 raid on a FARC hideout in neighboring Ecuador, which resulted in the deaths of the insurgent outfit's Number Two Raul Reyes and 25 other people, including an Ecuadorian citizen and four Mexican college students.
Last month, Chavez publicly urged the FARC to free all its captives and abandon armed struggle, an appeal he repeated last week when hailing Colombia's rescue of 15 high-profile rebel captives who included the most prominent of them, former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
Asked Friday whether he planned further efforts to mediate between Uribe and the FARC, Chavez said he stood ready to help, but only on Bogota's request.
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- Ministers from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden said in their letter that the situation was "unacceptable" and "decreases the credibility of the vaccination process".