BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez seems intent on keeping up his diplomatic spat with Colombia despite the harm it will cause to their countries' $5 billion in trade, and vowed to look elsewhere for business partners from now on.
"That commercial relationship ... I'm sure that's going to be hurt," Chavez told reporters late Monday while he and Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe attended the inauguration of Argentina's president. "Now instead of buying so many things from Colombia, I will go to Brazil ... Central America, Nicaragua."
Chavez also said he has no plans to return to the Andean Community trading bloc as long as Uribe's government is a member.
Chavez froze his once-cordial relations with the U.S. ally after Uribe abruptly halted Chavez's efforts to mediate a hostage swap with Colombia's leftist rebels. The Venezuelan leader called that a betrayal and that if he were allowed to continue mediating, FARC rebel leader Manuel Marulanda would almost certainly have turned over some hostages by Christmas.
Uribe ended Chavez's mediation role after Chavez spoke directly with Colombia's army chief against Uribe's wishes. Chavez called that a flimsy excuse, charging that Colombia ended his mediation on orders from Washington.
Chavez and Uribe scheduled separate meetings with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on Tuesday, one day after she succeeded her husband, Nestor Kirchner.
Chile, Argentina, Brazil and France have pressed Uribe to seek a deal for the release of at least 46 prominent rebel-held hostages.
The three Americans — Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell — were captured when their surveillance plane was downed in 2003. Another high-profile hostage is Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate in Colombia who was captured while campaigning in 2002.