Latin America’s warring nations could find peace with a little help, says student expert.

by Will Metcalfe

A POTENTIAL war between Colombia and Venezuela could be avoided with open discussion, according to a Colombian student studying at Manchester University.

Germán Prieto, who is currently writing his PhD on Andean Relations, says tension between Colombia and Venezuela is not a new issue although their nature has changed.

“There have always been tensions between them; the main problem is the border they share. They have never been able to agree what it is”, said Mr Prieto.

Mr Prieto believes that it is the differences between the two presidents that could drive the countries to conflict, though he stresses that a full scale war “could not happen”.

He said: “The good thing of being away is that you see things differently, you are separated from the momentum.”

He added: “I would like to be there right now to organise forums and conferences, meetings… people are already doing this in the border region; asking President Uribe to give a guarantee against war.”

“If I was in Bogota maybe my colleagues and I would organise a paper, asking Uribe to stop the confrontation with Chavez. It’s not a matter of security that would keep me from returning.”

The border under contention stretches for more than 1,500km (930 miles), and is the source of much antagonism. This is both in terms of definition and regarding activities of guerrillas which may be operating from Venezuela and drug traffickers in the region”, said Mr Prieto.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez took action last Friday (November 20) when he blew up several footbridges linking border communities, with the arrival of arms from Russia only fuelling speculations of conflict.

Mr Prieto sees such actions as an act of  “provocation”, although he believes increasingly hostility between Venezuela and Colombia are held entirely by citizens of the two nations.

“With Colombians and Venezuelans it’s not emnity but fraternity that we have. The border is a homogenous region, it’s not Colombia or Venezuela – people cross those bridges every day”, he said.

“With Mr Uribe and Mr Chavez, to follow them is to become a fanatic”, he added.

“There will be people in Colombia who think that a war – or for Chavez to be killed – would be good”, Mr Prieto said reluctantly, before adding: “Many people realise this is not true. No-one wants a war in the region – except the fanatics”.

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