Colombia‘s new President Juan Manuel Santos met with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chávez in a first step to restore bilateral relations Aug. 10. In a symbolically charged move, the meeting took place at the Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino, a monument to Simón Bolívar near Santa Marta on Colombia’s northern coast, where the liberator died in 1830.
Chávez said Venezuelans will continue their fight against “hunger, poverty, discrimination, inequality, corruption, exploitation of man by man, and crime,” and expressed hope that “we may join Colombia in its fight against these evils, respecting our sovereignty.” Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín said that she and her Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, held the “first initiative” for the restoration of official ties. Holguín also expressed the new government’s commitment to restore relations with Ecuador. (Periodico26, Cuba, Aug. 11)
The meeting came days after Chávez ordered the remains of Bolívar exhumed—to determine if he was poisoned by Colombian enemies. In a barely veiled reference to his current tensions with Bogotá, Chávez expressed skepticism on the traditional account of Bolívar’s death (tuberculosis), speculating that he was murdered by his Colombian general Francisco de Paula Santander.
In April, scientist Paul Auwaerter of Johns Hopkins University said he backed the theory that Bolívar died from arsenic poisoning. But he said it had probably been caused by contaminated water, or using the poison to try to cure headaches or hemorrhoids—and expressed concerns that the Venezuelan government was misconstruing his research.
Chávez “wept with emotion” as he announced the exhumation of his hero on Twitter. “What impressive moments we have lived tonight,” he tweeted from the national pantheon in Caracas. “We have seen the bones of the Great Bolívar! That glorious skeleton must be Bolivar, because his flame can be felt. Bolívar lives!” (BBC News, Reuters, July 17)