[JURIST] Tensions escalated in the dispute between Venezuela and Colombia Sunday as a celebration of Venezuelan independence quickly turned into a march of supporters of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez [official website in Spanish], expressing approval for his response to the December arrest of FARC [faction website in Spanish] rebel leader Rodrigo Grande. Grande was captured on Venezuelan territory; it was first thought the arrest was made there by Colombian special forces, but Colombian president Alvaro Uribe [official profile in Spanish] recently admitted that Grande had been captured by Venezuelan police officials acting as bounty hunters to retrieve a reward. At the time Chavez termed the incident a violation of international law [JURIST report]; he cut diplomatic and trade relations with Colombia on January 14 and withdrew the Venezuelan ambassador.
Chavez announced Sunday that he would cut all remaining ties with Colombia, as well as terminate all bilateral trade between the two neighboring nations unless Colombia issued an official apology. Chavez also accused the US [Financial Times report] of forcing the crisis between the two countries because of its dislike for his government, terming the incident an "imperialist plot" by the US. Chavez has accused the US of actively seeking to remove him from power, and has claimed that a US offer of support for Colombia is really an attempt to isolate Venezuela from the rest of Latin America. At her recent Senate confirmation hearings, Secretary of State nominee Condoleezza Rice [official profile] termed Chavez a "negative force in South America." Chavez's actions have already begun to impact Venezuela's international reputation; a visit to Venezuela by Spain's Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was cancelled this weekend. Colombian president Uribe has refused to apologize for any involvement in Grande's arrest, and has charged Chavez with knowingly harboring known terrorists. Venezuela's El Nacional has local coverage [in Spanish] of Chavez's response.