The leader of the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world is warning his country’s military and citizenry to prepare for war with Colombia and the United States, according to published reports.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez issued his warning during a weekly radio address.
“Let’s not waste a day on our main aim: to prepare for war and to help the people prepare for war, because it is everyone’s responsibility,” he reportedly said.
Chavez has repeatedly voiced deep fears of US encroachment in the region.
“Students, revolutionaries, workers, women: all are ready to defend this sacred homeland called Venezuela,” he continued, adding that the best way to “avoid war is to prepare for it”.
Relations between the neighbours were frozen in July after Colombia announced an agreement to lease the use of military bases to the United States.
“Venezuela and Colombia share a 1,375-mile (2,200-km) border and a volatile history,” Reuters noted. “After both were freed from the Spanish by Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar in the 19th century, the two countries were the center of a short-lived nation known as Gran Colombia that also included Ecuador and Panama.”
The wire service continued: “Colombia’s four-decade-old guerrilla conflict has for years spilled over the Venezuelan border, where kidnappings, contraband and drug trafficking are common. Chavez’s ideological closeness to Colombian FARC Marxist rebels has led Washington and Bogota to accuse him of supporting the guerrillas. Chavez denies providing arms or logistical support to the rebels.”
Chavez has in turn accused the Colombian military of making illegal, provocative incursions into Venezuela.
“Colombian paramilitaries operating illegally in Venezuela’s oil-rich border regions, together with the right-wing opposition in Venezuela, are the advance guard of imperialist plans to defeat the Bolivarian revolution,” socialist publication Green Left opined.
The concern is not unfounded. A recent Al Jazeera report which centered on a Colombian hitman in Venezuelan custody alleged that Chavez’s main political opponent in the country, Manuel Rosales, had offered a $25 million bounty to anyone who could kill the socialist leader.
Additionally, some American troops will soon find themselves stationed at military bases scattered across Colombia with a mission to use advanced Predator drone technology to aid in fighting the drug trade and to combat terrorism. When the arrangement was announced in August, Chavez bristled then too, telling reporters that “the winds of war [are] beginning to blow.”
Bloomberg News added: “The U.S. agreement with Colombia is part of an effort to ‘strengthen and increase ties with countries in the region,’ Robin Holzhauer, spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, said by telephone. ‘We’ve done that with governments who want to have partnerships with us.’ Colombia has said the agreement would help combat drug trafficking.”
During the summer of 2009, Venezuela bought billions of dollars’ worth of sophisticated fighter jets and tanks from its military ally Russia.
Venezuela’s closest allies, Ecuador and Bolivia, back that stance.
“As long as there are uniformed foreigners in a South American country, it’s difficult for us to think there can be peace,” Bolivian President Evo Morales reportedly said in August.
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