Venezuela cut ties with its neighbor on July 22 after Colombia presented evidence at the Organization of American States of 87 alleged FARC guerrilla camps running out of Venezuela. The FARC rebels are designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and others, and Uribe clamped down on the group -- famous for its kidnappings and other mayhem -- with ferocity, contributing to FARC's stumbling and Uribe's stunning 91 percent approval rating after the ingenious June 2008 operation that rescued 15 hostages.
It's no secret that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez shares leftist ideology with the guerrillas. "They're a real army that occupies territory in Colombia, they're not terrorists,'' Chavez said in his 2008 state of the nation address. "They have a political goal and we have to recognize that.''
That same year, Colombia recovered laptops from a FARC camp in Ecuador that clearly drew a line between the rebels and direct support from Chavez.
But Chavez angrily lashed out at Colombia's allegations to the OAS, which detailed the precise locations of FARC camps harboring about 1,500 guerrillas on Venezuelan territory. Not only did he sever ties with Bogota, but he threatened to cut off oil supplies to the U.S. if Colombia commits "armed aggression" against Venezuela.
Chavez wrote on July 25 that he would wait to see if Uribe's successor, Juan Manuel Santos, would ease the standoff "without tricks" when he takes office on Aug. 7. Obviously Chavez threw that out there without much expectation that Uribe's successor would fall into lockstep with Caracas: Santos, like Uribe, is center-right, having served as Uribe's defense minister.
Chavez cried wolf on July 30, claiming that he was deploying troops to the border on "a war threat" from the outgoing Uribe, who claimed no such raid is afoot in his last days as president.
There is no love lost between the two leaders -- at a summit in February, Uribe shouted at Chavez, "Be a man! ... You're brave speaking at a distance, but a coward when it comes to talking face to face," to which Chavez is reported to have replied, "Go to hell!"
But Chavez's focus on nationalist grandstanding against his enemy of the hour simply -- conveniently -- draws the focus away from mounting troubles at home.
For example, the Venezuelan oil industry -- the crutch of the country's economy -- faces a bleak outlook, with oil exports falling 6.4 percent in June compared to the same month in 2009. Despite being the fifth-leading producer in OPEC, Chavez has turned to China for about $20 billion in loans for national development projects, sending the country's once-miniscule foreign debt skyward.
Venezuela reported a $2.9 billion deficit in the first quarter of the year, rising by 30 percent from the same period in 2009. Troubles are also growing in the housing sector, with apartment prices jumping 27 percent in the first quarter of the year. Consumer inflation hit 30 percent in May -- the highest in Latin America -- and nearly 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Meanwhile, social services in Chavez's Bolivarian paradise have taken a nosedive. "Anarchy has taken over emergency rooms," El Universal reported Aug. 2, noting that six hospitals in Caracas had dropped care by about 50 percent with a shortage of drugs, surgical materials and doctors to blame.
Another bragging point for Uribe, although a wholly tragic one: Medellin, once synonymous with cocaine cartel violence, is now easily surpassed by Caracas as the most dangerous big city in Latin America. Venezuela and its capital city now rank among the worst in the world for murder rates.
Instead of turning his considerable pent-up rage toward battling crime or buffering a sinking economy, though, Chavez throws his energy into land and industrial seizures, conflict with everyone from his neighbors to the White House to the Catholic Church, shuttering free media and silencing free expression, and cracking down on political opposition.
So Chavez keeps the dial turned up on Bogota for the non-existent pending Uribe invasion, throwing bluster at Washington and trying to drag more Latin American nations into the squabble, all the while conveniently driving media attention away from considerable troubles on the home front.
Troubles, it is more apparent by the day, that Chavez has little interest in fixing.