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Does it matter if a country breaks diplomatic relations?

Ben Sutherland Ben Sutherland | 08:46 UK time, Friday, 23 July 2010

chavez.jpgVenezuela has suspended diplomatic ties with Colombia and ordered Colombian diplomats to leave the country after being accused of being a haven for guerrillas.

The country's president Hugo Chavez said he had "no choice" to act following the accusations that his country is harbouring the Marxist Farc rebels.

And he said outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has the capacity to use the claims "to attack us and cause a war."

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the government was also considering suspending flights and cutting commercial ties with Colombia.

Colombia presented videos, maps and photos to back up its claims that Marxist Farc and ELN rebels have bases in Venezuela.

But does any of this matter?

As Benedict Mander points out in the Financial Times blog:

In reality, diplomatic relations could hardly get much worse anyway, even if it does make life difficult for the incoming government of Juan Manuel Santos, who had pledged to improve relations with Venezuela

Colombia is doing well economically - in contrast to Venezuela, which is struggling to control one of the highest inflation rates in the world. Chavez's actions would potentially be more damaging to his own country than his neighbour.

The suspension of flights would obviously be a problem for those booked to travel. But beyond that, what impact could it have?

Well, blogger The Latin Americanist argues:

Colombian-Venezuelan relations have hit a frightening low. The brush-up and war talk that followed Colombia's assault on a FARC camp in Ecuadorian territory in 2008 led each country to high alert... After today's developments, we hope that cooler heads can prevail and stave off an escalation of tensions

Caracas has previously warned that Juan Manuel Santos' election - something that has now happened - "could lead to war in the region".

And the region has a history of hair-triggers leading to conflict - such as the football war of the 1970s.

If either country does begin readying troops, the consequences could get very real.

What do you think? Is Charvez's action a signal that he is preparing for conflict - or is the importance of diplomatic relations overblown?

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