Mérida, July 24th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) — In response
to Colombia's "unfriendly" decision to expand the U.S. military presence on
Colombian bases, Venezuela will strengthen its fleet of armored vehicles and
increase its military presence along its border with Colombia, President Hugo
Chavez said on Thursday.
"You are opening your house to an enemy of your neighbor… and the
neighbor has the right to say that it is an unfriendly act," Chavez said to the
Colombian government. The president specified that his intention is not to
interfere with Colombian affairs. "I am not meddling in your house," he said.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe said his government does not plan to
attack Venezuela, only Colombian guerrilla rebels. "We combat terrorists, we do
not attack governments or peoples," said Uribe.
Nonetheless, Chavez warned a group of Venezuelan military officers
during a ceremony at Fort Tiuna in Caracas that the U.S. military buildup in
Colombia would likely bring more "mercenaries, spy planes, the CIA [Central
Intelligence Agency], and paramilitaries" to South America.
Chavez, who is a former military officer, reminded the group that the
U.S. supported the coup d'etat against Chavez in April 2002. He asserted that
the U.S. "has plans to invade Venezuela," and "wants to convert Colombia into
the Israel of Latin America."
The president also raised questions about why Venezuelan opposition
leaders, including the mayor of Metropolitan Caracas and the governors of two
states on the border with Colombia, Zulia and Tachira, had met with White House
officials in Washington D.C. earlier in the week, shortly after the Honduran
elite had carried out a military coup and the U.S. was increasing its military
presence in Colombia.
"The extreme right sectors continue to conspire," said Chávez. "They
were there in the White House and the OAS [Organization of American States]
practically asking for Venezuela to be intervened in, that's what they want."
In response to this threat, Chavez said Venezuela would continue its
arms purchases from Russia. "We are moving forward on several new tank
battalions to have an armored force that is double what we have today," said
the president. He also said Venezuela will strengthen its militias, in which
students, reservists, and community members may participate in addition to
active duty soldiers, nation-wide.
Over the past three years, Venezuela has purchased 24 Sukhoi warplanes,
100,000 Kalishnokov automatic rifles, 50 attack helicopters, and other military
equipment from Russia. Venezuelan opposition leaders and the private media have
accused Venezuela of an arms buildup. Venezuela's military budget is one six
hundredth of that of the U.S., and the amount Venezuela has spent on arms
purchases from Russia, as much as $5.4 billion, is approximately equal to the
amount of mostly military aid the U.S. Congress approved for Colombia between
the years 2000 and 2008.
The recent spat sparked by the increased U.S. military presence in
Colombia is reminiscent of the diplomatic crisis that erupted after Colombian
forces bombarded an encampment of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) in Ecuadoran territory in March 2008. Colombia said it had rescued a
laptop from the wreckage that allegedly belonged to the FARC's second in
command, who was killed in the attack, and contained evidence that Venezuela
was financing the leftist rebels.
On Thursday, Chávez admitted that Colombian guerrillas at times cross
over the Venezuelan border illegally, but reiterated that the Venezuelan
government does not support any military solution to Colombia's civil war.
"I am not going to deny it, the Colombian guerrillas come and go, but
it's not that we protect them, it's that the border is thousands of miles
long," said Chávez. "If Colombia and the FARC come to an agreement to have a
peaceful dialogue, here we are willing to help."
He added that Venezuelan soldiers have battled with the FARC as well as
the National Liberation Army (ELN) on several occasions.
The Venezuelan president participated briefly in humanitarian accord
negotiations in 2007 before President Uribe dismissed him for contacting a high
level military officer. Chavez later directly negotiated the release of several
FARC hostages, and called on the rebels to release all their hostages and agree
to a peace accord.
Despite having periodic diplomatic disputes related to military
matters, Chavez and Uribe have often coincided in economic terms, holding more than
a dozen meetings to discuss joint infrastructure projects, a joint development
fund, oil exploitation, trade in automobiles, and food production in the past
However, Chavez said that Venezuela would look
to other countries to replace imports from Colombia.