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Santos defends Chavez ties

posted by Miriam Wells

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President Juan Manuel Santos defends his renewal of ties with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, saying the neighboring nation has almost entirely paid off its trade debt to Colombia.

The Colombian president announced Venezuela had paid $907 million of a $999 million debt it accrued while refusing to pay import tariffs on Colombian goods.

He made the announcement in response to criticism from his predecessor and former ally, Alvaro Uribe, that Santos was “selling democratic values” by building ties with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Speaking at a business awards ceremony, Santos said a close relationship with Venezuela brought huge financial benefits to Colombia. “And there are still people that say we shouldn’t normalize relations with our neighbors!

“Thanks to this new dynamic, which isn’t just about economics but also about security, our international commercial panorama is totally different today than it was a year ago,” said the head of state.

At a meeting earlier this week, Santos and Chavez signed a bilateral agreement lifting tariffs on 3,500 products being traded between the two countries.

Santos has also been trying to rebuild ties with Ecuador, following a breakdown in relations between the two nations following a unilateral Colombian military operation across the border in 2008, that killed FARC commander Raul Reyes.

Exports from Colombia to Ecuador rose 8% in the year leading up to September 2011, reaching a value of more than $1,400 million, said Santos.

About the author

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Miriam Wells is a former BBC radio producer from the UK, now freelancing in Colombia. She additionally worked for The Sunday Times (UK), Christian Science Monitor, Toronto Star and InSight Crime, among others.

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