Chavez: Only US withdrawal can ensure peace in LA


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on November 15 that the only "practical solution" to tensions with neighbouring Colombia, which escalated as a result of an October 30 military pact between the US and Colombian governments, is an "immediate" end to the deal.

The agreement, which allows US military access to seven air, naval and army bases in Colombia and grants full immunity to US personnel, is a "pact for war", said Chavez.

He said it would give the US free rein to conduct military operations that could jeopardise the sovereignty and integrity of neighbouring countries.

Chavez was responding to comments two days earlier by US State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly, who said the US was willing to "mediate" between Venezuela and Colombia to find "practical solutions" to the conflict.

Colombia, with one of the world's worst human rights records including the highest number of trade unionists killed each year, is the third-largest recipient of US military aid in the world.

In 2002, the US backed a failed military coup against the Chavez government and continues to fund violent opposition groups inside Venezuela.

Chavez said Kelly's proposal is another demonstration of Washington's cynicism.

"The US government is the champion of cynicism. Venezuela's sovereignty is not up for discussion, nor will it be negotiated with any other country.

"United States, if you want practical solutions, withdraw the Yankee bases in Colombia and free those fraternal people, free Colombia."

US and Colombian officials deny that Colombia will be used as a launch pad for military interventions in other South American countries. They say the agreement is designed to fight drug trafficking and left-wing guerrillas.

However, this is contradicted by the 2010 fiscal year budget of the US Air Force Military Construction Program, which states that access to the Palanquero air base through the pact "provides a unique opportunity for full spectrum operations in a critical sub region of our hemisphere" and "supports mobility missions by providing access to the entire continent".

The previous week, Chavez said that Venezuela, the largest oil producer in Latin America, would defend itself and its resources from the threat of a US invasion from Colombian territory by reorganising the armed forces and arming civil militias.

Chavez also ordered an increased military presence in Tachira state, which borders Colombia, after two National Guard members were shot dead by armed gunmen at a checkpoint. The Venezuelan government said the killings were the work of Colombian paramilitaries.

Colombia responded by writing to the United Nations and the Organisation of American States claiming that Chavez's comments amounted to "war threats".

Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said Colombia's complaint to the UN was aimed at diverting attention from its military deal with the US.

Chavez said dialogue with the government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is "impossible".

"Never has a government, and there have been many right-wing governments in this continent over the centuries, sunk to such a level as the government in Colombia ... it betrays its own people, the spirit of the people of Colombia and the peoples of South America."

Chavez said. "I'm not calling for any war. The gringo empire is calling for war. I'm calling for the defence of the sacred land that is Venezuela."

Chavez also criticised what he described as the "despicable attitude" of right-wing opposition parties in Venezuela who have welcomed the installation of the US bases.

"Because of their opposition to the Bolivarian revolution they support the plans of aggression against this continent ... They do not have the slightest dose of dignity or self respect."

He said Venezuela wanted peace. "Our wars are against hunger, against misery, against insecurity, crime, drug trafficking, these are our wars, a war for social justice, for life."

Chavez also repeated his call for US President Barack Obama to give back the Nobel Peace Prize, "out of dignity, decorum, respect", because "he keeps sending more troops to Afghanistan and the war is spreading across this part of Eurasia, in Pakistan, and in Iraq they are still bombing children and entire families, and they are supporting the coup in Honduras".

Chavez argued that the upcoming elections in Honduras are a "farce" designed to legitimise the coup government, which ousted the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya on June 28. The US has said it supports the elections and has offered technical assistance.

Chavez said Venezuela would not recognise any government other than one led by Zelaya, the "the legitimate government of Honduras".

[Abridged from]