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Venezuela's Chávez softens stance

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"Uribe has recuperated political space, within and outside of his country, and he is taking advantage of his economic agenda while Chávez is in the weaker position," says Elsa Cardozo, a foreign-policy expert at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas. "Chávez has suffered some setbacks since last year. He has lost some space. He needs to gain it back, so he is reconsidering his relationships."

The meeting was driven by economics for the partners who traded $6 billion last year. They announced promises to build a new railroad to link the two countries, which share a 1,300-mile border. Despite their ideological differences, an impasse hurts both. "The differences are going to remain," says Laura Gil, an international relations consultant in Bogotá. "But they have to normalize their relationship."

The meeting was the first since Uribe took away Chávez's role in mediating with the FARC. After Colombia launched a raid on Ecuadorean territory in an effort to capture a top FARC commander, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, a Chávez ally, was outraged and has still not mended ties with Colombia. Chávez reacted by sending troops to the border.

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