South American leaders end border dispute

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Colombian president Álvaro Uribe.
Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa.

An exchange of handshakes at a Latin American summit Friday marked the end of the bitter dispute that had taken place between the nations of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela over the past week. The presidents of each country agreed to end the conflict, and said political ties would be reinstated.

"With the commitment of never attacking a brother country again and by asking forgiveness, we can consider this very serious incident resolved," said Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa, as the other Latin American leaders applauded.

The Rio Group summit, which included 20 Latin American nations, was originally planned to discuss other issues such as energy, but it soon erupted into a series of verbal attacks between Correa and Colombian president Álvaro Uribe. The dispute was over Colombia's air strike against FARC rebels, which Ecuador accused of entering their territory. As a result, Ecuador and their ally Venezuela had sent troops to their borders and severed ties with Colombia.

At the summit, Uribe charged Correa's government of having links with the FARC rebels, a charge that Correa quickly denied. "I cannot accept Uribe's lies," he said. "These hands are not tainted with blood." He admitted there had been communication with the FARC, but only regarding the release of hostages held by the rebels, including French-Colombian politician Íngrid Betancourt.

Uribe insisted that Ecuador has not done enough to fight the rebels, which was the reason the operation had to remain a secret, he said. "We have not gotten cooperation from President Correa in the fight against terrorism." Correa then advocated the creation of an international peacekeeping force to control the border, saying that Ecuador has become a victim of the fighting in Colombia.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who was initially a central figure in the conflict, urged the leaders to stay calm. "We still have time to stop a whirlpool which we could regret," he said. "Let's reflect, let's be cool-headed." He also denied claims that he had supplied FARC with $300 million and offered to give them rifles. "I could have sent a lot of rifles to the FARC," Chávez said. "I will never do it because I want peace."

Finally, it was Dominican president Leonel Fernandez plea for peace that ended the feud. He requested that the presidents shake hands with each other, which they did, in a televised gesture viewed live across Latin America. Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, also agreed to reinstate diplomatic ties with Colombia after shaking hands with their president.

The leaders at the summit later approved a declaration in which Uribe apologized for the military operation and vowed never again to violate another nation's sovereignty. It also mentioned a commitment to fight against threats posed by "irregular or criminal groups."