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Colombia and Venezuela patch things up

BOGOTA, Colombia — In world affairs, business often trumps ideology — which is why Colombia and Venezuela have re-established diplomatic relations.

In his first move as Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos agreed to normalize ties with Venezuela following a summit with his counterpart, Hugo Chavez, in the coastal city of Santa Marta.

“The outcome has been very positive,” said Santos, who was sworn-in on Saturday. “President Chavez and I agreed that the needs of our people outweigh any personal differences.”

Chavez, a socialist, broke relations on July 22 after the right-wing Bogota government accused him of harboring Colombian guerrillas inside Venezuelan territory.

But the rebels have long crossed into Venezuela to escape from Colombian troops. Thus, the accusations were widely viewed as a parting diatribe from outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a pro-U.S. conservative who despises Chavez.

Santos also leans to the political right and distrusts Chavez. But he didn’t want to start his four-year term with a border crisis. What’s more the two sides need one other.

Colombia is one of Venezuela’s main trading partners. Amid shortages, Venezuela has in recent years turned to Colombia for massive imports of milk, meat and other food items.

Colombian business owner, who are owed $800 million from Venezuelan buyers, also pressured their government to normalize relations with Caracas.

For his part, Chavez saw no reason to prolong the impasse now that Uribe — his longtime nemesis — has left office. Besides, Chavez has proved to be a fair-weather fan of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas, who deal drugs, kidnap civilians and have been blacklisted by the United States and Europe as a terrorist group.

When trying to shore up his leftist political base at home, Chavez has praised the FARC and described the rebel cause as just. But when his enthusiasm for the FARC begins to make relations with Colombia — and the United States — untenable, the Venezuelan leader backs off.

That’s what he did Sunday on his TV program, “Hello President,” as Chavez prepared to reconcile with Santos.

“These guerrillas should come out in favor of peace,” Chavez said. “They should do so with concrete acts, like the liberation of all of their hostages.”