Chavez Discusses Venezuela-Colombia Conflict with Former Colombian President

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
met with former Colombian President Ernesto Samper in Caracas on Thursday to
discuss Colombia's recent decision to expand the U.S.'s military presence in
its territory, and Venezuela's threat to cut off economic relations with
Colombia if the expansion proceeds.

By James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com

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Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (ABN)
Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (ABN)
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Mérida, August
7th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
met with former Colombian President Ernesto Samper in Caracas on Thursday to
discuss Colombia's recent decision to expand the U.S.'s military presence in
its territory, and Venezuela's threat to cut off economic relations with
Colombia if the expansion proceeds.

Going into the
meeting, Venezuela held firm that Colombia must not go forward with the deal,
which would allow the U.S. to deploy thousands of military personnel on seven
Colombian bases, a move Chavez says threatens Venezuelan and regional security.

"No mediation
is possible. The only way this situation can return to calm is if Colombia desists
from giving its territory to the United States so that it continues planning
aggressions against us," said Chavez.

During the
meeting, Samper agreed to communicate Venezuela's concerns to the Colombian
government. "I have taken attentive notes of [Chavez's] concerns, which I plan
to bring to the Foreign Relations Advising Commission that will meet next week
in Bogota... and of course, to [Colombian] President [Alvaro] Uribe," said
Samper.

At Samper's
request, Chavez agreed to meet with the governors of the Colombian provinces
along the border with Venezuela to discuss the potential impact of cutting-off
bi-national trade, which tallied $7 billion last year.

"I asked
[Chavez] to listen to the governors of the border provinces and he said he was
going to invite them to Caracas. The leaders of Santander, La Guajira, Arauca,
Cucuta, and even Caldas, which sells clothing and auto parts [to Venezuela],
will be there," Samper said after the meeting.

On Thursday
evening, Chavez spoke on national television and requested a meeting with the
former foreign relations minister of Colombia, Maria Mejia, to "de-Uribize" the
conflict, referring to President Uribe.  

In response to
Venezuela's objections to the U.S. military presence last week, Colombia accused
Venezuela of aiding the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), saying
the Colombian military had seized grenade launchers from the guerilla
insurgents that had originally been sold to Venezuela by a Swedish firm in the
1980s. Venezuela says these weapons were stolen from Venezuela in 1995, before Chavez
became president.

Since then,
Venezuela cut off diplomatic relations with Colombia, suspended the importation
of 10,000 Colombian automobiles, and threatened to sever economic ties with
Colombia.

On Friday, U.S.
President Barack Obama clarified that the U.S. military presence in Colombia does
not constitute a U.S. military base in Colombia, since the troops will be
operating on Colombian bases.

"We have had a
security agreement with Colombia for many years now. We have updated that
agreement. We have no intent in establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia,"
said President Obama. "We have no intention of sending large numbers of
additional troops into Colombia," he added.

The U.S. Congress has
approved $5.5 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia over the past eight
years through its policy titled Plan Colombia, for the official purpose of
fighting drug trafficking and terrorism. The U.S. supported a military coup d'état
against Chavez in April 2002.