BOGOTA, Colombia – Venezuela recalled its ambassador and ended its participation in peace talks Wednesday after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with the losing opposition candidate in Venezuela’s recent presidential election.
Santos received losing candidate Henrique Capriles at the presidential palace in Bogota. Capriles has charged that the Venezuelan presidency was stolen from him in the April 14 election by the apparent winner, Nicolas Maduro, the late President Hugo Chavez’s handpicked successor.
Maduro and Capriles, who has demanded a recount, have exchanged harsh words since the election, and Chavista lawmakers came to blows during a session of the National Assembly month. Opposition politicians have travelled extensively to other Latin American nations to criticize the election.
Diosdado Cabello, the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, told a state TV reporter in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, that Santos’ amicable reception of Capriles represented a “bomb on the train of good relations with Venezuela.”
Capriles also received a cordial reception from Colombian legislators Wednesday in a visit to the national Congress in Bogota.
In a statement on national TV, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said his government was offended by the meetings and had ordered an immediate halt to its involvement as facilitator in peace talks underway in Cuba between the Colombian government and the country’s largest rebel group, known by its Spanish initials, FARC. Venezuelan diplomat Roy Chatterton has been recalled from the process, Jaua said.
Colombian government officials did not immediately respond to Venezuela’s actions.
Since taking office in 2010, Santos has worked to restore good relations with Venezuela, which were in tatters at the end of former President Alvaro Uribe’s time in office.
The neighbors nearly went to war in 2008 when Chavez ordered tanks to the common border area after Colombian commandos briefly invaded Ecuador to kill high ranking FARC leader Raul Reyes. Chavez called a halt to most Colombian imports, which cost companies in Colombia an estimated $5 billion in sales.
Chavez is believed to have been a strong proponent of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, partly because the presence of hundreds of rebels and several members of its leadership in the mountains of western Venezuela was a constant irritant in bilateral relations and among Venezuelans living in the area.
The Colombian government and FARC announced Sunday that they had reached an agreement on land reform, the first of six points that could make up an eventual peace accord.
Kraul is a special correspondent.