Colombia-Venezuela tension increases

By bogotapost February 13, 2015

Leopoldo Lopez Mendoza

Ex-President Pastrana stopped from visiting imprisoned opposition leader

Tensions between Colombia and Venezuela have heightened in previous weeks after a series of diplomatic issues threatened to set back bilateral relations between the two countries.

Firstly, Colombian ex-president Andres Pastrana and his Chilean counterpart Sebastian Pinera were prohibited from visiting Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in Venezuela’s Ramo Verde prison. Their request to visit the politician was turned down by the Venezuelan government. Lopez has been held at the prison for over a year due to his involvement in protests against the government in 2014.

In an interview with newspaper El Tiempo published on February 1, Pastrana condemned the decision, declaring “a president does not need official authorization to visit a political prisoner”. In a subsequent interview with the newspaper he expressed his horror at the high number of political prisoners in Venezuela and condemned the alleged use of torture against protesting students.

Pastrana also said “a humanitarian crisis is coming… and we need to call the government’s attention to the plight of Colombians [in Venezuela], who are being discriminated against when they try to buy basic goods”. These comments further complicated bilateral relations when Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin openly supported Pastrana’s stance. Holguin pointed to the increase in the number of Colombians being deported from Venezuela (296 in 2014) and highlighted the alleged maltreatment of Colombians by immigration authorities in Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Maduro responded to these comments by expressing his “regret that the Colombian Foreign Ministry endorses positions against the Venezuelan democracy and the constitutional government. This position constitutes a dangerous setback in bilateral relations.”

The dispute was officially settled last Tuesday when President Santos openly voiced support for bilateral relations with Venezuela’s Maduro, and both stated that now was not the time to provoke a diplomatic crisis. However, many remain critical of Santos’ stance and his apparent failure to consider the statements made by Pastrana and the Foreign Minister, among others.

By Laura Sharkey