Caracas, Venezuela, April 25, 2005—Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez announced the indefinite termination of a bilateral military exchange between the US and Venezuela on Sunday, during his weekly television program “Hello Mr. President.” Chavez justified his decision with the explanation that the five US military instructors stationed in Venezuela took advantage of their posts to make critical comments against the Bolivarian government. "Some of the [US officers] were waging a campaign in the Venezuelan military – making comments, talking to Venezuelan soldiers, criticizing the president of Venezuela," Chávez affirmed, adding "all exchanges with US officers are suspended until who knows when. There will be no more combined operations, nothing like that."
|Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Sunday the indefinite suspension of his country's military cooperation with the United States.|
Venezuela and the United States have taken part in a reciprocal military agreement for the past 35 years. There are three US officials currently in Fort Tiuna, located in Caracas, as well as one officer stationed in the Libertador Air Force Base and one in the Sucre Air Base, both of which are located in the industrial city of Maracay. At present, ninety Venezuelan officers are enrolled in military academies in the US. It remains to be seen whether Venezuela will continue to participate in US-led anti-drug smuggling efforts.
According to Chávez, lately many Venezuelans have questioned why this type of military exchange is being maintained with a government that has openly declared itself to be hostile to the Venezuelan government and that any type of exchange, military or otherwise, will be carefully revised by the Venezuelan government.
"I have spoken with the Minister of Defense and with the four commanders of the components…It is best that the [US officers] leave, until someday we can have transparent, clear relations and cooperation with the civil and military institutions of the United States, the way we do with almost all governments in the planet," stated Chávez.
Chávez also reiterated the possible scenario of a US invasion, saying that recent events have heightened these suspicions. Chávez noted that a female US navy officer was apprehended after taking pictures of a Venezuelan army base in the interior of the country. "When her documents were checked – I have a copy – she turned out to be a US marine…If she or any other US official does this kind of activity again, they will be imprisoned and face trial in Venezuela," he assured.
Chávez spoke of the US military buildup in Panama prior to the 1991 invasion in which over 3,000 Panamanians died, explaining that the increase in US military personnel was part of Washington's strategy to "justify" the violation of Panamanian sovereignty. On one occasion conflicts erupted between Panamanian and U.S. soldiers, which was then used as a pretext for U.S. intervention.
Referring to the U.S. military office in Fort Tiuna, one of the main military compounds in Venezuela, Chávez said the US military presence in Venezuela was nothing more than "an organ of the CIA in the heart of Fort Tiuna, conspiring against the government."
US – "Hoping to Maintain Historical Fraternal Relations"
The US embassy released a statement on Friday in response to the Chavez government's termination of the program, reading, "Giving no explanation, the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela abruptly ended US military participation in the bilateral exchange program. The US Embassy regrets this unexpected action. The US government hopes to maintain the historical fraternal relations between the two military forces."
Moments prior to the airing of Aló President, the US ambassador to Venezuela, William Brownfield, spoke with Globovisión declaring that "this is not something that [the US] wanted, nor do we desire it in this moment."
According to Brownfield, the US hopes to reestablish some type of military exchange "because we believe that it is excellent for the Armed Forces of both nations in order to maintain mutual understanding." Brownfield went on to add that since Venezuela had terminated the program, the ball was in their court to reestablish it."We are willing and prepared to maintain a relation of military exchange between the two countries and leave our officials there to maintain this exchange, but of course if the government does not want our participation in the programs this is a sovereign decision, but it is no our [decision]," he affirmed.