Filed under: South America
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6 August 2009
On Wednesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez presented evidence that Colombia’s accusations that his government provided grenade launchers to the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Colombian guerrilla organization, are false.
In a press conference dedicated largely to the issue, Chavez said the three grenade launchers that Colombian soldiers said they found in possession of the FARC recently might be those that were stolen when the guerrillas raided a Venezuelan military post on the Colombian border in 1995.
Chavez, a former military officer trained in the use of grenade launchers, handed reporters a series of official documents and photos that Colombia sent to Venezuela in June. He pointed out a discrepancy between the documents, which said the weapons still contained grenades when they were found, and the photos of the weapons, which showed they had been fired and were no longer loaded with grenades.
Last week, Colombia said it had confirmed that the weapons seized from the FARC had been sold to the Venezuelan government by a Swedish arms company in the 1980s.
The Venezuelan leader said it was “no coincidence” that the accusations came shortly after Venezuela protested a recent deal in which Colombia gave permission to the U.S. military to operate on seven Colombian bases, with the official purpose of fighting drug trafficking and guerrilla insurgents.
“They have the right. But we also have rights. We feel threatened, and it is good that Colombia knows it,” said Chavez, who advocates “21st Century Socialism” and was kidnapped in a two-day, U.S.-backed coup d’etat led by Venezuelan business and military elites in 2002.
Chavez said the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Colombian government support paramilitary soldiers that have crossed into Venezuela to commit political murders and plot another coup d’etat. He displayed weapons marked “Ejército de Colombia” (Colombian Army) that were seized from Colombian paramilitaries illegally in Venezuela in 2004.
These bases could be the first step toward a war in South America, he added.
Aside from repeated diplomatic conflicts, the administrations of Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have met several times this year to draw up extensive plans for joint economic projects. Chavez said the U.S.’s goal is to drive a wedge between such cooperation.
“The Yankees do not want us to unite as a region, they do not want union between Venezuela and Colombia,” said Chavez.
“I would prefer to be talking about bi-national railways, oil pipelines, health care, literacy, and education with Colombia, but sadly we are discussing other things,” Chavez continued.
Last week, Venezuela cut off diplomatic relationships with Colombia and announced it would purchase armored tanks from Russia in response to the U.S. military buildup in Colombia. Venezuela also cancelled a deal to import 10,000 automobiles from Colombia, and threatened to further reduce economic ties.
Colombia’s Minister of Agriculture, Andrés Fernández, said the cutoff could cost Colombia gravely, since Venezuela is its second largest trading partner after the U.S., with a total $7 billion in annual trade.
Chavez said Venezuela would be able to compensate for the loss of trade with Colombia by increasing trade with Argentina, Brazil, and other allies in the region. Venezuelan Agriculture and Land Minister Elías Jaua, Food Minister Félix Osorio, and Commerce Minister Eduardo Samán plan to travel to Argentina next week to increase food imports.
President Uribe, meanwhile, visited several South American heads of state to offer explanations of the increased U.S. military presence in its territory.
Most governments said that Colombia has the right to host the U.S. military, but only Peruvian President Alan García pledged unconditional support to Uribe. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet recommended the problem be resolved by the political and military integration organization UNASUR (Union of South American Nations). Bolivian President Evo Morales said he would propose a resolution in UNASUR to reject all U.S. military presence in member nations.