Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Monday night that bilateral relations with neighbouring Colombia are being fully reviewed following the decision by Colombia to allow the United States to use five military bases in its territory. A high-level bilateral meeting of the Colombia-Venezuela Commission, which was set to meet Tuesday July 21st, was also suspended.
Chavez said he had instructed Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolas Maduro to conduct a full review of bilateral relations, including diplomatic relations because Colombia’s decision represents a threat to Venezuela.
“We very much regret the situation, but we have to review relations with the government of Colombia because they are opening the doors to those who attack us constantly, to those who are preparing new attacks and who have overthrown governments and are supporting the coup in Honduras – the State Department and the Southern Command,” said the Venezuelan head of state.
The new military accord between the US and Colombia comes as the US has been forced to pull out of its Manta military base in Ecuador, after the government of Rafael Correa refused to renew an agreement allowing US military personnel to operate there.
The full details of the agreement have not been released, but in early July, Colombian magazine Cambio reported that in the framework of increased “cooperation” between Colombia and United States, the US will begin to operate in five Colombian military bases in Palanquero (center), Alberto Pouwels (north), Apiay (south), and two Navy facilities: in Cartagena de Indias, on the Caribbean coast and Malaga on the Pacific coast.
The central point of operations will Palanquero, a base located between the departments of Caldas and Cundinamarca, which has capacity for 60 aircraft and a runway of 3,500 meters and where the take off and landing of three aircraft can occur simultaneously, Cambio reported.
Colombian Defence Minister Gen. Freddy Padilla confirmed the information, but said there may be some changes.
Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe defended the decision on Monday saying it was justified by the fight against drug trafficking and guerrillas. Uribe said the United States will only have “limited access to military facilities in Colombia.”
However, Senator Piedad Cordoba, from the opposition Liberal Party in Colombia, told the Venezuelan-based news channel, Telesur, on Saturday that it was “shameful” that Colombians had to find out about the decision through a magazine.
The proposal has not even been put to the Colombian parliament for debate, “the government has been making under the table agreements” so that the US can use Colombian military bases, she added.
Responding to Uribe, the senator argued that the Colombian government’s “war on drugs” is a “total failure,” and the agreement constitutes a “threat to the region.”
Moreover, Cordoba declared, a clear majority of Colombians support a political and negotiated solution to the war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), not a policy of escalation “that jeopardises the safety of our neighbours.”
“Fundamentally, it is very shameful because we are left as some servants of the empire, doing errands, acting as scabs, handing over territory and losing dignity,” she emphasised.
In 2008 Venezuela and Colombia, a key US ally in the region, clashed over a cross-border attack by Colombian military forces on a FARC encampment in Ecuador. The attack was condemned by all Organisation of American States (OAS) member nations apart from the US and Colombia.
Former Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos justified the actions as “legitimate self-defence”, saying Colombia would strike at “terrorists” wherever they are. However, Chavez countered that Colombia’s actions were a “threat to peace in South America.”
At the time Chavez charged that Colombia, acting as a US proxy, was carrying out a dress rehearsal for a possible future attack on Venezuela.
Other Latin American leaders have also raised concerns about the role of US military bases in the region.
During a ceremony to celebrate Bolivian Independence Day in La Paz on July 16th, Bolivian President Evo Morales said that the US aims to install military bases in the region under the guise of the ‘war on drugs’, but in reality trains military personnel to carry out coups, such as the coup in Honduras, that overthrew the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28.
“Those who accept them [US bases] are traitors to the Homeland…never again should [foreign] military bases exist in Latin America.”
Ecuador’s Defence Minister Javier Ponce also described an increased US presence in neighbouring Colombia as “worrying.”
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This post was written by Kiraz Janicke