Venezuela’s Maduro to Meet Spanish Counterpart, Mend Relations

By Daniel Cancel and Matthew Walter

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro will meet with his Spanish counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, in Caracas to discuss a range of issues between the two countries.

Moratinos, making his second trip to Caracas as Spain’s top foreign affairs official, arrived today, the ministry said on its Web site. Their agenda may include issues that have arisen between the two countries such as the security of Spanish business investments in Venezuela and land-ownership rights for Spanish citizens who live in the country.

“We welcome Chancellor Moratinos’ visit in good faith,” Maduro said last night in an interview on state television. “We’re going to put our cards on the table.”

President Chavez, looking to improve his image after being accused of aiding Colombia’s largest rebel group, is softening his stance on foreign policy to mend frayed diplomatic relations, said Jessica Bryant, a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington.

“Ultimately Chavez is a very savvy politician,” Bryant said. “He felt himself becoming much more isolated both domestically and internationally.”

Spain and Venezuela have had rocky relations following an incident at the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago on November 10 when King Juan Carlos I said to Chavez “Why don’t you shut up?” after he interrupted the speech of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodoriguez Zapatero.

U.S. Ties

In the following days, Chavez said he planned to “profoundly review” his country’s economic, political and diplomatic relations with Spain and said Spanish investment in Venezuela wasn’t essential.

In other moves to mend fences, Chavez will meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Maduro said last night. The meeting will seek to “re-establish communication,” the ministry said, after Chavez on June 8 urged Colombia’s biggest guerrilla group to release its hostages and end its 44-year war against the government. Colombia has accused Chavez of providing financial and logistical help to the rebels, an accusation he denies.

Chavez, who has called President George W. Bush “the devil,” “drunkard,” “donkey” and “Mr. Danger,” also said during a June 11 speech that he’s willing to work with whoever becomes the next U.S. president.

“We’re hoping it’s not a publicity stunt,” Bryant said.