The summit comes at a moment when bilateral relations between both South American nations are tense
Border security and trade issues were discussed in Puerto Ordaz, Southern Venezuela. After Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe Velez sworn in on August 2002, the relation with his bordering counterpart, Hugo Chavez Frias, gradually deteriorated. Colombia has repeatedly accused Caracas of sheltering groups to find cover in Venezuelan territory after crossing their common border. Venezuela, in turn, protested for the incursion of Colombian paramilitaries within its territory and recently ordered air strikes against those groups.
Also, a trading dispute involving Colombian and Venezuelan corporations has played its part to tense bilateral connections. According to official reports, a group of businessmen in Caracas owe Colombian companies around 300 million dollars and Chavez promised a solution in the short term.
All in all, it looks like not only official stuff separates both leaders, but also ideological positions over internal and foreign affairs. While Uribe vows for closer ties with Washington, Chavez stands for a more independent line in foreign affairs, providing Cuba with economical aid and approaching the Mercosur, block led by Brazil and Argentina.
Uribe has repeatedly pledged for US military aid to fight rebels and even asked for a large-scale US disembark in Colombia "like the one in Iraq". Naturally, Venezuela's authorities are very reluctant to see Rumsfeld's forces fighting 400 kilometers away from Caracas, as Chavez believes Washington was behind the frustrated coup against his administration on April 2002.
On the other hand, communist support to Caracas' government dislike of the hard-line policy to fight guerrillas adopted by Uribe. The Communist Party of Venezuela supports Chavez, and some of its high members officially collaborate with Venezuela's government as advisors. This left wing force supports the actions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC - and other marxist rebel groups, as they were originally organized by Colombian communists.
Despite allegations, Chavez said he's committed to improving relations with Colombia. News agencies in Caracas report that Chavez denies his government has ever aided Colombia's leftist insurgent groups. He has said groups in both countries are trying to ruin the neighbors' relationship, but he said he's optimistic that Wednesday's meeting would be a success despite his adversaries' efforts to "sabotage" it.
In the airport of Macagua, Uribe and Chavez addressed formal statements in which pledged for full integration between both countries. "This welcome comes from the bottom of my soul", said Chavez in his usual flowered way of speaking. "I trust in our capabilities to build, in this century, the full and true integration of our peoples, economies and potentials".
Both leaders also discussed how to improve the weakened trading between Venezuela and Colombia. According to official statistics, trade between the two nations topped $2 billion over the last two years. However, According to estimates from the Colombian Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce and Integration, bilateral trade could fall by as much as 60 percent this year due to restrictions to foreign trading recently implemented by Chavez to block flight of capital.
The summit was the second that Chavez and Uribe have held in less than six months. The previous meeting took place on November 14 in Colombia.
Photo (AP): Presidents of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez (left) and Alvaro Uribe in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela.