Tensions grow as Chavez masses troops on border

Threat of bloodshed as Venezuelan president tells his people to prepare for war with Colombia

Telling his people, "If you want peace, prepare for war," and accusing the US of secretly plotting to invade and seize Venezuela's oil reserves, Hugo Chavez announced that he intends to send 15,000 troops to his country's border with Colombia.

The hostile move, which has inflamed diplomatic relations across the region, saw the left-wing president urge his soldiers to "defend this sacred nation called Venezuela" against what he called a creeping right-wing "empire". In response, Colombia said it would complain to the United Nations.

"Fellow military personnel, 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 said in a televised speech. "We are going to train military groups, revolutionary students, employees, women... The best way to avoid war is preparing for it."

The comments come amid growing tension between Mr Chavez and his neighbour's right-wing president, Alvaro Uribe, who has close political ties to Washington and who last month signed a military co-operation pact with the US.

Under that deal, American forces will occupy seven military bases in Colombia for at least the next decade, ostensibly to fight drug traffickers who control much of the region's cocaine trade. However, Mr Chavez seems convinced that the move sets the stage for a sudden invasion of his homeland.

"The empire is settling right under our noses," he told viewers of his Sunday talk show, Alo, Presidente, claiming that one of the US bases would be "20 minutes" away from Caracas (which is possibly the case, but only via supersonic jet). "Don't make a mistake, Mr Obama," he warned the US president, "by ordering an attack against Venezuela by way of Colombia."

Posturing by Mr Chavez normally causes little alarm as it has become so common. In his televised Sunday speeches to the nation, which sometimes last several hours, he has recently railed against enemies as diverse as the Catholic church and the "bourgeois" sport of golf.

However, the recent speech is being taken more seriously, since tensions have been growing between the two nations for years and recently spilled over into violence. A fortnight ago, the bodies of 11 Colombian men were found dumped over the border. Aides to Mr Chavez claimed they were paramilitaries who had been killed while training to mount a coup against him.

In October, Venezuela announced that it had arrested several Colombian spies on its soil. Two months earlier, when Bogota signed its pact with Washington, Mr Chavez announced that the "winds of war" were blowing across the region, and unveiled a series of trade tariffs against the neighbouring country, which is, in normal circumstances, one of his leading trading partners.

Against this backdrop, regional analysts are concerned at the build-up of troops on the border, saying that the smallest spark could now lead to widespread bloodletting. Venezuela has in recent years spent more than $3bn (£1.8bn) on weapons, leading the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to warn against an "arms race" developing in the region.

Mr Chavez, who spent much of his early career in the armed forces , laid on the bellicosity in his latest speech, addressing it to "all commandants", and delivering it in front of rows of saluting army officers.

In response President Uribe issued a statement insisting that the US presence in Colombia, which has been criticised by many other regional governments, was purely aimed at helping it fight the battle against the drug trade. He insisted his country had no intention of attacking its neighbour.

"Colombia has not made nor will it make any bellicose move towards the international community, (and) even less so towards fellow Latin American nations," he said. "The only thing we are interested in is defeating terrorism related to drug trafficking, which has been so unfair to Colombians for so many years."

He called for "frank dialogue" with Mr Chavez, adding, "faced with these threats of war by the government of Venezuela, the government of Colombia is considering going to the Organisation of American States and UN Security Council."

The dispute leaves the US in a tricky position. Washington sees Mr Uribe's regime as a buffer against the growing number of socialist governments in the region, but there is little appetite for American troops getting caught up in a fresh foreign conflict.

Fighting talk: an escalation

TIMELINE

Nov 2007: Colombia withdraws support for President Chavez as mediator between Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas and Colombian government.

Jan 2008: Chavez calls Uribe 'liar', 'coward' and 'pawn of the US empire' .

March 2008: Venezuela expels Colombian diplomats and orders army to border after Colombia invades Ecuador in pursuit of Farc guerrillas. Colombia claims that Ecuador and Venezuela ignore the presence of the guerrillas on their territory. Chavez calls Uribe 'a mob boss'.

July 2009: Chavez withdraws ambassador from Bogota after US announces plan to expand military presence in Colombia. Chavez denies 'arming any guerrilla or armed group' and says US plans to turn Colombia into 'the Israel of Latin America.'

Oct 2009: Chavez threatens to reduce trade with Bogota, worth $7bn in 2008, 'to zero'. Colombia appeals to WTO.

Nov 2009: Chavez orders his army 'to prepare for war' with Colombia, 'in order to preserve peace.'

News
people
News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes