CARACAS/BOGOTA (Reuters) - Venezuela reacted with fury to Wednesday’s talks between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, saying it was a “bomb” in ties and recalling an envoy to Colombia’s peace process.
Capriles met Santos in Bogota at the start of a tour around Latin America to press his case that last month’s presidential poll in Venezuela was fraudulent and President Nicolas Maduro’s government is therefore illegitimate.
Capriles, a 40-year-old business-friendly state governor, lost to Maduro, the successor to late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, by just 1.5 percentage points, according to official results.
The Maduro government has vilified Capriles as a “fascist” trying to stir a coup in Venezuela, and powerful Congress head Diosdado Cabello, who is also the No. 2 in the ruling Socialist Party, was the first to complain about the meeting in Bogota.
“Colombia must clarify if the government is with Capriles’ coup intentions, or with the people of Venezuela and with the legitimate, sovereign and constitutional government of comrade Nicolas Maduro,” Cabello told state media.
“President Santos is putting a bomb in the good relations that President Chavez urged so much ... He is receiving a murderer, a fascist right there in his palace.”
Colombia is a major U.S. ally and the government before Santos had dire relations with Chavez’s administration.
But despite ideological differences, Santos patched things up with Chavez in the name of pragmatism and regional solidarity after taking power in 2010. That helped trade to flow and enabled both sides to chase criminal gangs on the border.
Colombian Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas on Wednesday offered to provide Venezuela with food and manufactured goods to ease shortages in the OPEC-member country.
Cardenas offered to meet with Venezuelan officials to discuss the issue in the coming days and find a form of payment that might involve an exchange of Colombian goods for crude oil.
Capriles, whose politics are closer to Santos’ than Maduro’s are, also met with Colombia’s parliament leaders during Wednesday’s visit. He said he was taking his demand for justice abroad given that it was being stymied at home.
“We are taking the voice of millions of Venezuelans beyond our borders,” he told reporters, repeating his argument that the April 14 presidential vote was stolen from him.
“The fight for democracy has to be everyone’s fight.”
Capriles said he and Santos spoke about the economy, security, Venezuela’s internal situation, and peace talks Colombia’s government is holding with Marxist guerrillas.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua echoed Cabello’s criticisms and said the country’s envoy to Colombia’s peace talks in Cuba, Roy Chaderton, would be recalled in protest.
“I deeply regret that President Santos has taken a step that is going to lead, in a painful way, to the derailing of the good relations that we had,” he told reporters.
Maduro has not specifically referred to Capriles’ visit, though on Tuesday he said that “right-wing” Venezuelans were travelling around the region planning economic sabotage and assassinations against his government.
Reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel and Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Eduardo Garcia and Eric Beech