In even the best of families: Venezuela v. Colombia

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Uribe and Chavez. Embracing, or going in for the strangle?

The possibility of war in Latin America looms large as Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has called for troops to prepare themselves for war against Colombia. Venezuela feels that a deal signed between the U.S. and Colombia to allow U.S. soldiers to occupy more bases in Colombia is an act of war. “Generals of the armed forces, the best way to avoid a war is to prepare for one,” Chavez said in comments on state television during his “Alo Presidente” program over the weekend. “Colombia handed over their country and is now another state of the union. Don’t make the mistake of attacking: Venezuela is willing to do anything.” Colombia’s President, Alavaro Uribe, has appealed to the United Nations and the Organization of American States to for help.

“Faced with these threats of war by the government of Venezuela, the government of Colombia is weighing heading to the Organization of American States and UN Security Council,” said a statement from President Alvaro Uribe, read out by his spokesman Cesar Velasquez. “Colombia has not made nor will it make any bellicose move toward the international community, (and) even less so toward fellow Latin American nations.”

Tensions have always existed between Colombia and Venezuela, despite the fact that trade between the countries rose to $7 billion in 2008. In March of 2008 Venezuela lead troops to the Colombian border after Colombia soldiers lead a raid into Ecuador to retrieve information about the FARC, Colombia’s violent domestic terrorist group.

This summer, President Uribe signed an agreement to allow the United States to increase its military presence in Colombia in exchange for aid in its battle against the FARC.  South American leaders were very concerned about more American troops in the region, none so much as President Chavez, who is filmed discussing the troop surge below.

Latin American leaders have reacted differently to Venezuela’s hawkish statements. Chavez ally and President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega has said that Latin American countries are locked in struggle to “make disappear once and for all … the military bases that threaten the sovereignty, integrity and peace of our people.” Such bases, he said, were  “symbols of war” and Colombia was a “traitor” for creating more of them. Brazil’s President, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, offered to broker a meeting between Uribe and Chavez. He is focused on Barack Obama’s promise to increase U.S. diplomatic interest in the region. “I consider it of importance that the United States show more interest in Latin America so that we can devote ourselves to a momentum of peace and bonding within the continent,” said Lula.

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