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.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
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: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all