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Nonsense From Hugo Chavez

Editorial | LA Times

28.01.05 | Picking a fight comes naturally to Venezuela's demagogic president, Hugo Chavez. In the last four years, he has taken on leaders from Peru, Chile, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Bolivia. Now as he spars with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Chavez seems to be hoping for a bout with his greater nemesis, George W. Bush a fight that, he feels, would earn him a place in the pantheon of the Latin American left.

Long before Uribe was elected president in 2002, the Colombian government asked Venezuelan officials to discuss legitimate concerns over border security, but the diplomatic plea fell on deaf ears. Once in power, Uribe chastised the Venezuelan leader for tolerating Colombian rebel camps on the Venezuelan side of the border. Chavez, who has a history of flirting with Colombia's communist guerrillas, denied the charge.

Last month, Uribe ran out of patience and ordered the detention of Rodrigo Granda, a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, living comfortably in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas and traveling with a Venezuelan passport. Venezuelan bounty hunters kidnapped Granda and brought him to justice in Colombia. It was a bold move, justifiable under the circumstances. Though FARC has Marxist roots, drug trafficking is what makes it a force now.

Chavez threw a fit after the capture, comically complaining that the incident violated Venezuela's sovereignty as if harboring Colombian guerrillas trying to overthrow his neighbor's democratic government was in accord with diplomatic niceties. Chavez suspended commercial ties with Colombia and withdrew his ambassador from Bogota. Uribe replied he was willing to discuss the incident if Chavez would stop giving sanctuary to Colombian terrorists in violation of international law.

Chavez on Sunday demanded an apology from Uribe. He also called Bush vulgar names and accused the United States of direct involvement in the Granda kidnapping.

This would all seem amusing if not for the history of tense relations between Caracas and Bogota and the Bush administration's need to support Uribe while finding some way to get along with the Chavez regime.

What is clear is that other Latin American leaders shouldn't put up with the Venezuelan president's nonsense. Chavez gets a lot of mileage out of his anti-American rhetoric and his nation's oil riches. But powerful mediators, like Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, need to make clear to him that harboring terrorists who attack neighboring countries is unacceptable.

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