CARACAS, Venezuela – The presidents of Venezuela and Colombia have pledged to put aside their differences after their worst-ever spat.
The governments of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Colombia's Alvaro Uribe issued statements Thursday night saying the two had spoken by phone and agreed to meet soon — a major shift after recently trading accusations and insults.
Less than two weeks ago, Chavez called Uribe a "liar," a "criminal," a "mafioso" and a "lapdog" of the U.S. government.
But now the governments say the two plan to strengthen relations after their confrontation, sparked by the Colombian military's March 1 cross-border attack on a rebel camp in Ecuador. It was unclear when the meeting could take place.
Chavez and Uribe "renewed their commitment of trust and mutual collaboration so that neither Venezuela nor Colombia are victims of violent groups, whatever their origin," said a statement released from Bogota.
Chavez made the call, and in the conversation the two expressed "willingness to re-establish the best relations between the governments," it said.
They also made clear "their willingness to cooperate to avoid aggressions of any kind," Venezuela said.
In the days after the military assault, which killed 25 people including a rebel leader, Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa dispatched troops to their borders with Colombia. Chavez's government also scaled back trade at border crossings.
Colombian officials also released documents found on rebel laptops at the bombed camp, claiming they indicate Chavez has built close ties with the leftist rebels.
The three leaders held a tense debate last week at a summit in the Dominican Republic, but then concluded with stiff handshakes after Uribe pledged to never again carry out another act like the strike in Ecuador.
After that meeting, Chavez's government restored full diplomatic ties with Colombia and reopened its embassy in Bogota. Venezuela also invited back Colombian diplomats expelled by Chavez.
Based on their politics, Chavez and Uribe seem natural antagonists: Uribe is Washington's closest Latin American ally, and Chavez is the region's most outspoken U.S. critic. But until late last year, they managed to maintain cordial relations, often appearing arm-in-arm at summits and referring to each other as "brothers."
Their speedy reconciliation after the diplomatic flare-up suggests neither wants or needs a protracted confrontation.
The South American neighbors are major trading partners, with billions of dollars in business each year, including imports of Colombian food that help Chavez's government cope with sporadic shortages.
Their verbal confrontation began in November, when Uribe sought to halt Chavez's efforts to mediate a swap of rebel-held hostages for imprisoned guerrillas. The rebels have since freed six hostages to delegates of Chavez, and he says he hopes the insurgents will turn over more.
Talk of war led some of Latin America's biggest music stars to plan a peace concert at the Colombia-Venezuela border on Sunday.
The Colombian rock star Juanes says the "Peace Without Borders" concert is meant to ease tensions and will be performed atop a bridge linking the countries. He is expected to be joined on stage by artists including Carlos Vives, Alejandro Sanz and Juan Luis Guerra.