Rodrigo Granda stepped out of a Caracas cafe to take a cell phone call when four men with guns grabbed him, shoved him into a sport utility vehicle and drove him across Venezuela's central plains and up into the Andes to Colombia.
There, the man Colombian authorities say is a rebel leader was handed over to police in exchange for a reported $1.5 million in cash, sparking the worst diplomatic crisis in decades between Venezuela and Colombia and aggravating tensions between Venezuela's president and the United States.
Leaders are trying to resolve the dispute through diplomacy, but on Thursday night Colombia's foreign minister emerged from talks in Peru with her Venezuelan counterpart saying that, though the meeting was positive, no solution had been reached.
The December incident has enflamed long-dormant political sore points, slashed cross-border trade and sent Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez into deeper conflict with the U.S. government, which says he appears to tolerate "terrorist groups." In Venezuela, some see the widening conflict as a prelude to U.S. intervention in their country.
Top Venezuelan officials say the United States has ulterior motives in demanding Venezuela investigate whether other Colombian rebels are hiding out on Venezuelan soil. They suggest President Bush's government is carrying out a campaign to smear Chavez's government and could be contemplating ways to oust him - an accusation denied by the United States.
"Hostile statements by spokesmen of the U.S. government have been increasing in the last several days," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said Wednesday. He rattled off countries where the United States has staged armed interventions, from Nicaragua to Grenada, implying there is concern Venezuela could be next.
"Generally armed aggression, direct or indirect, has been preceded by political campaigns to create the conditions for the attack," Rodriguez said, urging the United States to stop interfering.
U.S. officials, including newly appointed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have made clear they are troubled by Chavez's close ties to Cuba's Fidel Castro, his virtual domination of Venezuelan politics and his stance toward Colombian rebels.
The State Department is asking pointed questions as to why he was allowed to move freely in Venezuela. Granda had obtained Venezuelan citizenship, but Venezuelan investigators said he did it using false documents.
Chavez denies Colombian accusations he turns a blind eye to rebel bases on his territory. And he says he is certain Washington had a hand in Granda's capture.
Posted By: Redneck Texan