The Colombia-Venezuela Standoff

This week as Venezuela shut down its border with Colombia, cargo trucks bringing perishable food sat in park on the highway. It was a perfect image to capture the state of affairs between Venezuela and Colombia: a standstill, with potential for spoiling.

For the last several years, Colombia's Alvaro Uribe has maintained a tricky alliance with both the U.S. and Venezuela, maintaining strong economic and diplomatic ties with both countries. While the U.S. continues funneling military aid to Colombia through Plan Colombia, Colombia has maintained a huge export business with a longtime adversary of the U.S. government, Venezuela. Chavez and Uribe’s friendship has paid off over the years, particularly when Chavez helped broker the release of dozens of FARC hostages back in 2003.

Yet the recent agreement by Colombia to allow seven of its military bases to be used by the U.S. for counternarcotics and antiterrorism operations has soured relations. As of this week, Venezuela has closed its borders for some Colombian exports, and Chavez has pulled his ambassador out of Bogota. Chavez has stated that he will "freeze" relations with Colombia, and that Venezuela is not dependent on the country for imports. In the wake of the report, the Colombian peso fell in value for the first time in a month, after having been the world’s best performing currency for four months.
However, even as Chavez says that Venezuela can survive without Colombia’s imports, the standoff seems like it would hurt his country much more than Colombia. Venezuela has been the main market for Colombia’s non-traditional exports in plastics, poultry, textiles, and other exports. In the first five months of ’09, Venezuela absorbed 33 percent of Colombia’s exports, followed by the U.S. taking in 19.6 percent. Analysts quoted by Bloomberg News stated that Venezuela would suffer in worsening food shortages, which would increase the country’s already high inflation and put more pressure on their deficit. Then there’s the effect on Venezuela’s petroleum industry. Venezuela looks to Colombia for imports of 300 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, and that gas is required for the country’s oil reservoirs to increase pressure and boost production, and as raw material for the petrochemical industry.

The question now becomes whether either country will flinch. Uribe has garnered sympathy for the new bases from Uruguay and Brazil. Also, Uribe has built up foreign investment in his country by building confidence in counternarcotics and antiterrorism programs that the U.S. has funded. In 2007, BusinessWeek hailed the new Colombia as the most “extreme emerging market” in the world, because Uribe had successfully changed the country’s image from a haven for drugrunners to a center for investors. If Uribe can find alternatives to Venezuela for the country’s exports, he may not need to continue relations with Chavez.
And if so, the Colombian truckers now stalled at the Venezuelan border may find cause to turn around and never look back.


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Human Rights, FARC, and the Indigenous Resistance Movement in Colombia

Link's latest episode of Latin Pulse/Pulso Latino travels to Toribio, Colombia, symbol of the indigenous resistance movement following a devastating attack by FARC guerillas in 2005. With their land under attack, occupied by guerillas, paramilitaries, and police, the Naza Indians native to this region in Southern Colombia are struggling to pick up the pieces. The dangers for civilians remain high in Colombia's Cauca region, as FARC guerillas, drug traffickers and police continue to do battle, including this recent attack in Buenos Aires, Cauca, Colombia.



This video footage comes from Colombian TV program Contravia, led by investigative journalist Hollman Morris, who was featured in this previous Latin Pulse interview. The Foundation for a New Iberian-American Journalism, an organization founded by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, awarded this episode of Contravia its highest prize in 2007 for journalistic excellence.


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Colombian Journalist Hollman Morris on Free Speech

Link's Latin Pulse/Pulso Latino programs have only been getting better, presenting hard-hitting journalistic reports from countries like Colombia, Mexico and El Salvador. If you missed the recent report "Colombia: Stories That Kill", be sure to go back and watch online for some great analysis on free speech (or the lack thereof) among journalists in Colombia.

Today, we've just published the web-exclusive complete interview with Hollman Morris, the award-winning journalist who is featured in the above-mentioned report. The Colombian secret police have been illegally spying on Morris since 2004, and this fascinating interview (conducted via the video phone service Skype) explains why.




(Click here for the original version of the interview, en Español.)


You can read more about the claims that journalist Hollman Morris was a Colombian secret police target at, a partner organization of Latin Pulse.


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