LatAm, Caribbean summit begins amid regional tensions

BOGOTA - The fourth summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States began Wednesday in Costa Rica.

The CELAC, which was created to improve deeper integration between the 33-member states of the Americas and Caribbean, excluding Canada and the United States, will be discuss trade and security and is expected to address the ongoing peace dialogues between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC guerrillas, and the Colombian government.

But given recent diplomatic disagreements between Colombia and Venezuela regarding the imprisonment of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez in Caracas who has been imprisoned since Feb. 18, 2014, all eyes will be on Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro who are attending the regional meeting.

In recent years, Santos has remained quiet regarding politics in neighboring Venezuela, preferring to say that "through dialogue solutions are found,” when referring to violent demonstrations that took place across Venezuela in 2014.

Observers now believe, however, that the Colombian president, feeling that the peace dialogues with the FARC - facilitated in no small part by the government of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – have reached a point of no return, can express concern for the treatment of political prisoners in Venezuela.

The diplomatic rift was brought about by by former Colombian President Andres Pastrana’s desire to visit Lopez while on a recent trip to Caracas.

“We hope that Leopoldo Lopez will be released as soon as possible,” wrote the former president in an open letter to the Venezuelan government.

Pastrana’s visit was prohibited, prompting Colombian officials to call on their Venezuelan counterparts to treat the former president with respect.

Pastrana’s mission was referred to as “complicit to unfriendly actions,” according to a statement released by the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This was followed by declarations by Maduro who said, “I regret that the government of Santos and his Foreign Affairs Ministry should have fallen to such provocations. What are they doing? Should we permit political relics like Pastrana to disrespect Venezuela? The Venezuelan people will not remain silent,” he said.

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