Hugo Chavez

The buzz in Latin America was the February 22 shout-fest in Cancun, Mexico between Colombia’s pro-American leader Alvaro Uribe and Venezuela’s populist, anti-American president Hugo Chavez.  The showdown erupted during a private luncheon for Latin American and Caribbean presidents gathered to discuss [without the U.S. or Canada present] a framework for Latin American unity and an “alternative mechanism” to the ailing Organization of American States.

According to well-placed leaks, the showdown began when President Uribe raised the topic of Venezuela’s commercial blockade of Colombia, imposed after Colombia signed a defense accord with the U.S.  Uribe compared Venezuela’s actions to U.S. trade restrictions on Cuba.

Chavez responded with a paranoid tirade claiming Uribe was behind assassination plots against him and rose to leave.

At this point Uribe retorted: Be a man! These issues are meant to be discussed in these forums. You’re brave speaking at a distance, but a coward when it comes to talking face to face.

Chavez responded: Go to hell!

The less-than-diplomatic outburst recalled the 2007 Ibero-American Summit when Spain King Juan Carlos told Chavez to “shut up”.

The confrontation appears to have galvanized the leaders to press for a fresh attempt to mediate the dispute.

Uribe’s readiness to resist Chavez’s terrorism, cooperate fully with the U.S. in the fight against the drug trade, and push for the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement show why he is popular in Colombia,  widely respected abroad, and frequently maligned by his enemies..