Author`s name Alex Naumov

Chavez proposes military alliance against U.S.

According to the Venezuelan leader Washington is trying to provoke a war in South America. Tension rises across the region.

After stating that the U.S. was trying to provoke a war between Venezuela and Colombia, President Hugo Chavez called on Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua to form a military alliance to guard against eventual attacks from Washington. The appeal comes as tensions between Caracas and Bogota spin out of control after Chavez's allegation that Colombia and the United States are plotting a military "provocation" against him

Chavez said that U.S. military support for Colombia to help fight guerrillas and drug traffickers is a threat to Latin American unity, according to an e-mailed statement from the Information Ministry. ``Interfering with Bolivia, Nicaragua or Cuba is also interfering with Venezuela,'' Chavez said of his biggest Latin American allies yesterday during his weekly ``Alo Presidente'' television program. ``This is about reestablishing the concept of unity.''

Chavez talked of “war” for the first time last week, after saying that Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, “was a pawn of the US imperialism”. Bogota did not reply, but announced that would investigate reports about Venezuelan aid to Colombian guerrillas.

Chavez gave no details on his allegation, saying only that it was based on intelligence reports from his government and other nations he did not identify. The president, who has close relations with Cuba, also cited recent visits of three top U.S. officials to Colombia, among them Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the head of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, Adm. James Stavridis.

"This is nearly reaching unmanageable levels," said former Colombian Defense Minister Rafael Pardo Rueda. "This contains the great danger that along such an extensive border [1,300 miles] any unintentional incident can generate a very complicated standoff." The former chief of staff of the Colombian armed forces, retired Gen. Harold Bedoya, went further: "Everything indicates that there will be aggression from Venezuela" and that "Cuba is surely involved."

The president's accusations coincide with the launch early this week of "Operation Caribe 01," a series of Venezuelan military exercises scheduled to run until Feb. 3. Some 3,000 troops concluded the first phase of the exercise Friday, which included the mobilization of fighter planes, tanks and helicopters, according to the Bolivarian News Agency in Caracas.

Relations between both neighbour South American countries began to worsen one month ago, when Chavez unilaterally brokered an humanitarian deal to release hostages held by Colombian armed groups. Bogota badly collaborated in the operation carried on by Venezuelan forces in Colombian territory under the umbrella of the Red Cross.

Chavez's accusations against Colombia represent a fresh escalation of the war of words that began Nov. 21 when Uribe withdrew his approval for the Venezuelan president's efforts to mediate with Colombia's leftist FARC guerrillas. On Nov. 25 the Venezuelan ambassador to Bogota was recalled for consultations and has not returned, but Uribe did not withdraw his own envoy.

If finally Venezuela declares war on Colombia (or the other way around), it will mean that South America will face its first international armed conflict since 1995 Condor war between Ecuador and Peru.

Hernan Etchaleco