Kirchner to Meet With Santos Today to Help End Colombia-Venezuela Dispute
Santos, on a tour of Latin America before he takes office Aug. 7, has declined to comment on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s decision to sever diplomatic ties over Colombian charges that as many as 1,500 rebels are using his country’s territory to carry out cross-border attacks.
Kirchner, the secretary general of the 12-member Union of South American Nations, is trying to moderate strains between the countries on behalf of regional governments. He’ll meet with Santos at 10 p.m. local time, according to the Unasur press office in Buenos Aires. He’s set to travel to Caracas for a meeting with Chavez before Santos takes office next month.
Chavez said at a rally of supporters yesterday that he would suspend oil shipments to the U.S. if there’s an American- sponsored attack by Colombia, even if it meant Venezuelans would have to “eat stones” due to a collapse in oil revenue.
“We wouldn’t send a drop of oil to their refineries,” said Chavez, who suspended a trip to Cuba in response to the crisis. “Not a drop, because that’s the great culprit for the tensions in this part of the world and the entire planet.”
Santos, as outgoing President Alvaro Uribe’s defense minister, oversaw an air strike in Ecuador that killed Raul Reyes, a top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Chavez sent troops to the border in retaliation for the 2008 raid.
Colombia’s peso gained 0.5 percent to 1,858.9 per U.S. dollar at 2:25 p.m. New York time. The peso has gained 10 percent this year, the best performance among 26 emerging- market currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
Chavez, 55, is ramping up his rhetoric about an attack from Colombia as a way to deflect attention from Venezuela’s deepening recession and his falling approval ratings, said Patrick Esteruelas, an analyst at Eurasia Group.
“Chavez has a vested interest in playing up the Colombian threat in order to push away from the headlines much of the poor economic news,” Esteruelas said in a phone interview from New York. “This amounts to an early Christmas present to Chavez from Uribe.”
Venezuela, the largest oil exporter in South America, depends on crude for 95 percent of export revenue and 50 percent of government spending. The U.S. is its largest export market for crude and refined products.
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said today in Washington that the U.S. has no plans to attack Venezuela.
“We have no intention of engaging in military action against Venezuela,” Crowley said in a press conference.
Chavez severed ties with Colombia on July 22 after Uribe’s government presented photos, satellite images and other evidence that it said showed several guerrilla commanders and their fighters were taking refuge in Venezuela.
Santos, who visited Mexico last week, named Maria Angela Holguin, a former ambassador to Caracas, as his foreign minister in a bid to improve relations with the country. The 58-year-old president-elect also said he hoped Chavez would attend his inauguration.
A group of South American foreign ministers will meet in Quito next week to discuss the conflict. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa may visit Venezuela to discuss the situation with Chavez in the coming days.
Uribe said in a statement late yesterday that the government is reducing requirements to establish duty-free zones, lowering value-added taxes and boosting the sale of national goods along the border to alleviate the economic fallout from the crisis with Venezuela.
Trade between the two nations sank following Colombia’s decision last year to allow the U.S. military to increase its presence in Colombia, the recipient of more than $7 billion in U.S. anti-narcotics and counter-insurgency aid since 2000.
Exports from South America’s fourth-biggest economy to Venezuela declined 71 percent in the first five months of 2010 from the same period a year earlier. Before relations soured, Venezuela was Colombia’s biggest export market after the U.S.