Colombia and Venezuela press on with 'brotherly' ties

Image caption,
It was all smiles at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas

Venezuela and Colombia have taken further steps to improve diplomatic ties after a series of bitter disputes.

Meeting in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos, signed several trade accords.

The two nations restored relations in August, shortly after Mr Santos took office.

Ties were severed when his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, accused Venezuela of harbouring Colombian rebels.

"President Santos, friend, we welcome you from the bottom of our heart," President Chavez said as the Colombian leader made his first visit since being sworn in.

Avid fan

It was a stark change of tone by the Venezuelan leader, who had warned Mr Santos when he was running for office that he would not be welcome in Caracas.

Image caption,
Baseball diplomacy: Both men spoke to Colombian star Edgar Renteria

Since then, however, relations have warmed, including a visit by Mr Chavez to Colombia.

On Tuesday, the two leaders spoke of a "brotherhood" between the two South American neighbours, a sentiment that was repeated throughout the proceedings.

"We will be brothers for ever," said Mr Chavez.

Mr Santos, meanwhile, said they had turned a corner in their relations.

"We've gone from good-intentioned statements to concrete accords," he said.

They signed a series of deals, including agreements on textiles, agriculture, housing and shared infrastructure, including a new bridge to help bilateral trade.

Business between the countries, which was some $7bn (£4.3bn) in 2007, declined significantly amid a long-running dispute between Mr Chavez and Mr Uribe.

Mr Chavez and Mr Santos agreed to meet every three months to try to keep the relationship on an even keel.

During a lighter moment, Mr Santos interrupted Mr Chavez, an avid baseball fan, to call the Colombian baseball player Edgar Renteria to congratulate him for winning the World Series with the San Francisico Giants.

Renteria was named Most Valuable Player of the series.

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