Drones Violate Venezuelan Air Space near Colombian Border

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Sunday that military drones penetrated Venezuelan air space along the northwestern border with Colombia shortly after midnight on Sunday.

Mérida, December 21st 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Sunday that military drones penetrated Venezuelan air space along the northwestern border with Colombia shortly after midnight on Sunday. The president warned that Venezuela is prepared to defend itself if Colombia or the United States, countries which recently signed a military pact, violate Venezuela’s sovereignty.

“The plane penetrated Venezuelan air space and was seen by several National Guard officials,” said Chavez during his Sunday presidential talk show, Hello President. “This type of plane seeks information, coordinates, takes photographs, records videos and some even drop bombs,” he added.

Chavez said the drone was controlled remotely from Colombia, and that the incident was the result of the military accord signed by Colombia and the U.S. in October, which grants the U.S. access to seven Colombian bases. A U.S. Air Force budget document indicated the bases are to be used for spying and “full spectrum operations” across the South American continent.

“They are preparing an aggression,” said Chavez. “Believe me, Colombian bourgeoisie; if you attack Venezuela, you will regret it… we are not unarmed.”

Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva denied the deployment of drones to Venezuela, saying, “Colombia does not have the capacities they [Venezuelan officials] describe.”

“Perhaps it was that the Venezuelan soldiers confused Santa Claus’s sleigh with a spy plane,” the defense minister joked.

Silva also said the military accord with the U.S. is focused on Colombia’s internal fight against guerrilla insurgents and drug trafficking, and accused Venezuela of “inventing stories about external threats in order to be able to spend billions of dollars on weapons they do not need.” He added that Venezuela has made “very direct and very clear” indications of “an eventual external aggression against Colombia.”

Venezuela purchased more than $4 billion dollars (approximately one third of Colombia’s 2008 defense expenditure) in war planes, rifles, tanks, helicopters and other military equipment from Russia over the past four years, in response to the U.S.’s cutting off military sales Venezuela, its interventionist policies, and the re-activation of its Fourth Naval Fleet in South American waters.

On Sunday, Chavez reiterated that Venezuela is only preparing to defend itself against attack, and said the deployment of drones in Venezuelan territory is “an act of war.” He ordered the Venezuelan Armed Forces to shoot down any drones that violate Venezuelan air space in the future.

“We do not have any plans against Colombia… the last thing I would ever want in this life is a war with Colombia… so help me God. But this does not depend upon us,” Chavez said. “To talk about Colombia is to talk about Venezuela, and to talk about Venezuela is to talk about Colombia. But the Yankees want to make us fight.”

Chavez also called on the “international community” to be alert to the fact that “the aggressions against Venezuela are increasing.”

In addition to signing the pact with Colombia, the U.S. is also increasing its military presence on the Dutch Antilles islands of Curacao and Aruba, which are located near the Venezuelan coast, Chavez said, reiterating accusations he made while in Copenhagen for the U.N. Climate Conference last week.

The Colombian and Venezuelan governments frequently coincide on economic matters, but clash on political and military matters. Colombia cut short Venezuela’s cooperation in a humanitarian accord between the Colombian government and the guerrilla insurgents in 2007, and bilateral relations worsened after Colombia bombed a guerrilla camp in Ecuador without permission on March 1st, 2008.

Colombia accuses the Ecuadoran and Venezuelan governments of giving material support and providing refuge to the Colombian insurgents. Both governments deny the accusations and suspect that Colombia and the U.S. seek to classify them as so-called “state sponsors of terrorism” in order to justify an eventual military intervention to put an end to their progressive and anti-imperialist policies.

Earlier this month, an Ecuadoran truth commission released a 131-page report on Colombia’s attack in Ecuador. According to the report, the U.S. used its military base in Ecuador to provide intelligence on the whereabouts of the guerrilla camp, and this was “fundamental” in Colombia’s deadly excursion, which set off a regional crisis.

The head of the Colombian Armed Forces, Freddy Padilla, denied the report’s findings, and the U.S. embassy stated that the U.S. “was not involved in any way” in the attack.

Also earlier this month, Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizalez said recent investigations following the arrest of Colombian spies in Venezuelan territory reveal a link between Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva and paramilitary forces that have infiltrated Venezuela.

After news of the impending U.S.-Colombia base deal broke last July, Venezuela cut off diplomatic ties with Colombia and vowed to replace its imports from Colombia with imports from other South American nations. Since then, Colombian exports to Venezuela have declined by more than 70%, according to the recent Colombian newspaper reports.

The regional integration organization, Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has taken up the issue of Colombia’s civil war and military relations with the U.S. in repeated emergency summits over the past five months. Venezuela, Ecuador, and other nations proposed a regional peace and non-aggression accord, a reduction of arms purchases over the next five years, and a joint declaration opposing the presence of the U.S. military in South America. However, no consensus was reached, mainly because Colombia desisted.