Chávez tells Venezuela to get ready for war with Colombia

 

VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT Hugo Chávez has told his country to prepare for a possible war with Colombia, as diplomatic and border tensions between the ideologically opposed Andean nations deteriorate to their lowest level in more than a year.

Mr Chávez used his weekly television show, Aló Presidente, to denounce an agreement between Colombia and the US that allows the US military to use seven bases in Colombia. Mr Chávez warned these could be used for an attack on Venezuela.

Ordering troops to the frontier, he said the army could not afford to waste a day and that “we must prepare ourselves for war and help the people prepare for war, because this is the responsibility of all”.

The Colombian and US governments insist the bases are only for use against drug traffickers within Colombia. But Mr Chávez has denounced the pact as part of a US plan to try to dominate a region that in recent years has moved out of its traditional Washington orbit under a new generation of left-wing leaders, of whom Mr Chávez is the most radical.

Supporting their claims about the bases agreement, the Venezuelans have cited a US air force document presented to the US Congress in May. It says one of the bases provides a “unique opportunity” for “conducting full-spectrum operations throughout South America”, which it describes as a “critical region” under constant threat from “anti-US governments”.

On his television programme, Mr Chávez said that “the government of Colombia is not in Bogotá, now it is in Washington”, and warned US president Barack Obama that any US intervention launched from Colombia would spark a “100 years’ war”.

Colombia said it would raise Mr Chávez’s comments with the UN Security Council and the Organisation of American States.

Last year Mr Chávez ordered troops to the frontier live on Aló Presidente following Colombia’s bombing of a rebel guerrilla base hidden on the Ecuador side of the two countries’ border.

This latest round of tensions started with the signing of the bases agreement at the end of last month, and deteriorated last week when Venezuela said Colombian right-wing paramilitaries were responsible for killing two Venezuelan soldiers on its territory.

Colombian rebels and paramilitaries operate right along the border with Venezuela. Leading political allies of Colombian president Álvaro Uribe face investigations into their alleged links with the country’s paramilitaries.

Colombia, meanwhile, accuses Mr Chávez of providing covert support to the Farc guerrilla group.

In recent years Venezuela has embarked on an arms buying spree which it says is necessary to offset strategically the US-bankrolled military in Colombia.

Colombia is the fifth-biggest recipient of US military aid after Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Egypt.

Colombia’s army is double the size of Venezuela’s and battle-hardened after decades fighting left-wing guerrillas in the continent’s most protracted insurgency.

Economic mismanagement means that Venezuela is heavily dependent on Colombian food imports despite its own vast tracts of rich tropical farmland.

Despite a decade of increasingly hostile relations, Venezuelan imports of Colombian foodstuffs have ballooned, accounting for most of the $7.2 billion (€4.8 billion) in bilateral trade between the two countries last year.