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Colombia’s Santos Seeks to Mend Ties With Ecuador, Venezuela

June 21 (Bloomberg) -- Colombia’s president-elect Juan Manuel Santos spoke to Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa about improving the countries’ relations and thanked Venezuela for its “positive gesture” in congratulating him on his victory.

Santos made the comments to reporters today in Bogota.

Colombia’s next president has said he wants to mend ties with Venezuela and Ecuador and revive trade links severed by diplomatic disputes. Relations between Colombia and its neighbors have been strained since March 2008 when Santos, as minister of defense, ordered a raid into Ecuador that killed Raul Reyes, the second-in-command of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group.

An Ecuadorean prosecutor in April ordered Santos’ arrest for his role in the raid, while Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called the president-elect a “warmonger” for the cross-border attack. Santos has accused Chavez of allowing the FARC to stage attacks from across the border.

The dispute has damaged trade. Exports to Venezuela, traditionally Colombia’s biggest export market after the U.S., plunged 69 percent in April from the same month a year ago.

The International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth of 2.3 percent for the Colombian economy this year, slower than all other regional economies except Venezuela. Colombia is lagging behind the region partly due to the fall in demand from Venezuela, said Julian Marquez, an analyst at Corp. Financiera Colombiana SA in Bogota.

“We estimate Colombia lost between 0.5 and 1 percentage point of growth last year as a result,” Marquez said, speaking by telephone from Bogota.

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry congratulated the Colombian people and Santos for his victory in Colombian presidential elections yesterday, according to an e-mailed statement.

“The Venezuelan government will closely observe not only the declarations of spokespeople from the new government, but also the actions that profile the type of relations we can have with sincerity and respect,” the statement said.

During the election campaign, Chavez said it would be “very hard” to have good ties with a Santos government.

To contact the reporter on this story: Helen Murphy in Bogota at hmurphy1@bloomberg.net; Matthew Bristow in Bogota at mbristow5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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