What started out as a war of words between President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia, even as far back as 2007, has now become an open diplomatic conflict in a multilateral forum and threatens to escalate into something worse.

The most recent round of hostilities between the two countries was sparked off at a meeting of the Organisation of American States in Washington earlier this week, when Colombian Ambassador Luis Hoyos, produced what he alleged was documentary evidence that Venezuela was housing camps of the rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on its soil.

In an immediate response, President Chávez severed ties with Colombia describing the Colombian accusations as a “United States-inspired aggression”. Speaking on state television Mr. Chávez said, “We have no other choice but, out of dignity, to totally break our relations with our brother nation of Colombia.”

In sharp response to the cut-off in diplomatic ties, Mr. Hoyos called it a “historic mistake”, adding that Venezuela should instead be breaking relations with the “gangs that kidnap and kill and traffic drugs”.

Hinting that there could be a deeper subtext, Mr. Chávez went on to argue that Colombia could be trying to provoke a war, indeed that American officials were “using Colombia to portray him as a supporter of terrorist groups to justify a U.S. military intervention in Venezuela”. He also reportedly said that the photographs that Mr. Hoyos procured at the OAS meet were not authentic and noted that Venezuela had done everything possible to prevent Colombian rebels from crossing into its territory.

Washington, which has traditionally been critical of the Chávez regime, attacked the Venezuelan President’s actions. State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley described them as “unfortunate” and a “petulant response by Venezuela to cut off relations with Colombia”. He added that if Venezuela failed to cooperate in whatever follow-on steps are made, “the U.S. and other countries will obviously take account of that”.

Mr. Crowley further said, Venezuela had “very clear responsibilities” to combat terrorism in the region and to support efforts by the OAS and the United Nations to fight terrorism especially given the U.S.’ “concerns about the links between Venezuela and the FARC” and the fact that Washington had not certified Venezuela in recent years as fully cooperating in its antiterrorism efforts.

Indicating the U.S.’ support of President Uribe’s accusations he added, “These were serious fact-based charges that Colombia made yesterday at the OAS and they deserve to be fully investigated.”

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