Venezuela pledges support for Colombia peace talks
Venezuela's vice president and foreign minister assured Colombia's top diplomat on Friday that their government is willing to keep backing peace talks between the Colombian government and leftist rebels.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has expressed support for the talks in Havana, and newly appointed Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that policy would continue.
"Vice President Nicolas Maduro and I reiterated all our willingness to accompany the Colombian people's effort for peace," Jaua said after meeting with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin.
Maduro was present during part of their meeting, which came several days after talks between representatives of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia resumed in Cuba following a holiday break.
Delegates from Venezuela and Chile have been designated as facilitators for the talks between the rebel group known as the FARC and Colombia's government, though their exact roles have not been explained.
The foreign ministers also discussed efforts to boost ties and border security, and Holguin expressed solidarity with Chavez amid his struggle with cancer. Chavez remains out of sight in Cuba more than five weeks after undergoing cancer surgery.
"We accompany you constantly at this difficult time you're going through," Holguin said after the meeting.
Holguin said she understands the president has been recovering. Without giving details, she expressed confidence that "everything is going to be through the proper path."
Chavez hasn't spoken publicly since before his Dec. 11 operation, and Maduro announced Jaua's appointment as foreign minister on Tuesday after meeting with the president in Havana.
A decree appointing Jaua and bearing Chavez's signature was published in the Official Gazette, but opposition politicians and legal experts have questioned the validity of the signature noting that the decree states it was signed in Caracas, though the president was in Cuba at the time.
Since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos took office in 2010, he has built friendly ties with Chavez, ending the animosity between the two countries during the presidency of Santos' predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.
Political tensions during Uribe's tenure had led to a drop in trade, and in the past two years commerce between Colombia and Venezuela has been rebounding.
In previous years, Colombian officials accused Chavez's government of providing refuge to rebels, and the U.S. government has said some senior Venezuela military officials have provided the FARC with arms and helped it traffic in cocaine.
Chavez and his government have denied those accusations, though the rebels have expressed affinity with the socialist leader's ideals.
Fernando Gerbasi, a former Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia, said Holguin's visit to Caracas had been scheduled weeks ago and said he didn't think her visit was related to the uncertain situation in Venezuela surrounding Chavez's condition. He said Colombia's foreign minister in particular wanted to make sure Venezuela will keep cooperating in the peace talks.
Vicente Torrijos, a political analyst at Rosario University in Bogota, said stability in Venezuela is crucial for Colombia so that Venezuela's government continues supporting the negotiations.
Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Cesar Garcia in Bogota contributed to this report.