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.'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
film
Sport
football
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

Recruitment Genius: Modern Apprenticeship Assessor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Scotland's leading train...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Director - SaaS (SME/Channel) - £140,000 OTE

£90000 - £140000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you a high achievin...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Telesales Executive - Cloud Software/SaaS - £37,000 OTE

£25000 - £37000 per annum + benefits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you seeking to furth...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Sales Manager - Welding, Power Tools and PPE - £45,000 OTE

£25000 - £45000 per annum + car + benefit: h2 Recruit Ltd: A fantastic and uni...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game