Colombian Candidate Zuluaga Attacks Santos on Venezuela

Colombia’s administration is turning a blind eye to Venezuelan government repression in a bid to keep peace talks with Marxist guerrillas on track, according to presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

President Juan Manuel Santos is overlooking the welfare of roughly four million Colombians living in the “dictatorship” of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and the threat his regime poses to Latin American democracy, Zuluaga said yesterday.

Santos is dealing with the situation with “a complicit silence”, Zuluaga said in an interview in Cartagena. “With fear for the effect it could have on the negotiations in Havana. Colombia should reject energetically everything that threatens democratic principles.”

The Colombian government has been talking to negotiators for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in Havana since November 2012, seeking an end to the country’s 50-year internal conflict. Venezuela has often acted as an intermediary between the Colombian government and the guerrillas, including in hostage releases.

Caracas has been locked in violent protests this week, amid shortages of basic goods and annual inflation of 56 percent in a country with the world’s largest oil reserves. Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was arrested Feb. 18.

“There is a repression of all kinds of liberties,” Zuluaga said. “There is no press freedom, no political freedom for the opposition, no freedom of expression.”

Ecopetrol

The Colombian presidency didn’t reply to an e-mail requesting comment, sent outside normal business hours.

Santos’s main challenger in May presidential elections said the incumbent’s failure to protect security gains at home could threaten state-controlled oil company Ecopetrol’s (ECOPETL) ability to meet a production goal of 1 million barrels per day in 2015.

Attacks on Colombian oil pipelines rose 72 percent to 259 last year, according to the Ministry of Defense. As Colombian Finance Minister, Zuluaga sat on Ecopetrol’s board from 2007 to 2010.

“Last year there were two worrying trends - the fall in seismic testing and the failure to meet the target for exploratory wells,”

Ecopetrol declined to comment in an e-mailed response to questions on the presidential candidate’s remarks.

Zuluaga will contest May elections as a candidate for the Democratic Center, a movement founded by supporters of former President Alvaro Uribe. A poll published Feb. 19 by Caracol Radio shows Zuluaga would lose to Santos in a second round of voting.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Willis in Bogota at awillis21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Attwood at jattwood3@bloomberg.net

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