Venezuela and Colombia: Hopes Are Not Realities

As expected, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro used their recent meeting to assert good will towards normalizing diplomatic relations. That has been paralyzed since June of this year by Maduro after Santos’s legitimate and sovereign choice to meet with Henrique Capriles Radonski, Venezuela’s top opposition leader and former presidential candidate.

However, beyond the good intentions and praises expressed by both leaders last week in Puerto Ayacucho — the capital of Venezuela’s Amazonas State that sits across the Orinoco River from Colombia — can we actually believe that bilateral relations will normalize?

Most likely, the countries will simply go back to the pragmatic understanding that existed prior to the Capriles-Santos meeting. In other words, don’t count on these neighboring nations reestablishing the level of commercial and political ties held between 2002 and 2008, when Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez were in charge — regardless of the verbal attacks and diplomatic breaches at the time.

Even during the “honeymoon” period of the relations between Santos, elected in 2010, and Chávez, when they would call each other the “best friends” of the continent, the commercial and diplomatic ties were never like the ones held before 2008, when Venezuela was Colombia’s second best trading partner.

Nowadays, the intrinsic weakness of these bilateral relations is that they are undermined by the political and ideological differences of the respective administrations and are subject to rupture upon any misunderstanding between the two. It would not be surprising if at any given time Maduro lashes out against his Colombian counterpart and its “oligarchy,” accusing them of conspiring with the  Venezuelan “fascist right” to jointly prepare a military invasion to overthrow Maduro’s government — or to announce again that there is a plot being prepared in Colombia to poison and kill him.

Also, it would not be surprising to hear Maduro accuse Bogotá of disrupting peace dialogues that he is heading in la Havana, Cuba, with the guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which Colombia labels a terrorist organization.

In fact, when the meeting between Santos and Capriles stirred new tensions between Colombia and Venezuela, the FARC immediately released a statement blaming Santos for interrupting the peace negotiations, while praising Venezuela saying it had been a “country that ha[d] facilitated the conversations and the peace process. . .  the main generator of trust, and therefore responsible [for] crafting the fundamental steps of the peace process.”

Any excuse is perfect for Venezuela’s chavista-oriented administration to attack its Colombian neighbor when it suits government needs. As in those directed at the United States, accusations against Colombia have been used to divert attention from the multiple problems and internal protests in Venezuela. The supposed threats also serve to unite party members and supporters and bolster chavismo at key moments, especially during election campaigns.

One should also note that Venezuela is immersed in a new campaign, this time for the regional elections set for December 8, 2013, this year — deemed particularly important for the government to achieve legitimacy, hold local power, and finally develop their communal state.

Just like Hugo Chávez did on various occasions, Nicolás Maduro could possibly invent a fictional war against Colombia in order to unite the “revolution’s” followers and defenders — towards eventually winning most of the municipal council and state seats in the upcoming elections.

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