Venezuela: Chavez denounces war threat as unions organise

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared on November 8 that his country is prepared to defend itself against a possible act of aggression from Colombia or the United States.

The US and Colombia recently signed a military pact that will allow the US to use Colombian bases to increase its military and intelligence operations across Latin America.

Chavez called on the commanders of the Venezuelan armed forces to "lose no time; we are going to form militias of revolutionary students, workers, women, everyone ready to defend this sacred homeland".

Chavez said on his weekly television talk show: "Don't make the mistake, President Obama, of ordering an overt aggression against Venezuela using Colombia. Venezuela will never, never be a Yankee colony again."

If the US and Colombia attacked Venezuela, "It would be the start of a hundred year war, and this war would extend across this entire continent".

"If we lived in a world where the most powerful countries respected the least powerful ones and were ruled by human principles and values, then we could dedicate ourselves to anything other than war."

Colombia and the US signed a deal on October 30 to expand the US military presence on seven Colombian air, naval and army bases, grant US personnel diplomatic immunity for crimes committed in Colombia, and facilitate the movement of the US military throughout the country.

Chavez said: "The government of Colombia is no longer in Bogota, it is in the United States ... Colombia handed itself over. Not the people of Colombia, the government of Colombia, the Colombian oligarchy."

The office of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said in a statement: "Colombia has not made nor will it make any gesture of war toward the international community ... The only interest that motivates us is to overcome narco-terrorism that for so many years has battered Colombians."

Colombia called Chavez's declarations "threats of war" and said it would issue complaints in the Organisation of American States and the United Nations Security Council.

In response, Venezuela said it is prepared to debate the US bases deal with Colombia in any multilateral organisation. A Venezuelan foreign relations ministry statement called Colombia's declarations of peace "hypocritical".

It cited Colombia's March 2008 attack on Ecuadorian territory, when it bombed and raided a guerrilla encampment.

Several governments across the region, including Nicaragua and Brazil, expressed deep concern over the growing tensions resulting from the US-Colombia military deal. They also called for dialogue.

Bolivian President Evo Morales called for an emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations and the nine-member Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas regional trade bloc "to debate and find solutions among all countries".

Morales said the US-Colombia military pact should be put to a continent-wide vote. "If the people say no, the governments must bring an end to this type of treaty."

On November 9, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia said: "The US presence in Colombia is an invasion of the continent ... we have to prepare ourselves in the face of the implication of a US military invasion."

After news of the pending US-Colombian military deal became public in July, Venezuela cut off diplomatic relations with Colombia and vowed to replace Colombian imports. Since then, bilateral trade has declined by half.

Tensions flared in early November when two Colombian intelligence agents were arrested in Venezuela for allegedly spying, and two Venezuelan national guards and a group of suspected Colombian paramilitaries were murdered near the Colombian border.

Meanwhile, inside Venezuela, trade unionists have announced plans to re-found the National Union of Workers (UNT) through a national congress scheduled for December 5 to "defend and deepen the gains of the Bolivarian revolution".

The workers organising the congress generally agree on the need to build a unified national union federation to confront a pro-capitalist state bureaucracy that threatens to derail the revolution.

Regional and sector-based meetings are being held throughout the country to facilitate debate and discussion among rank-and-file workers in preparation for the national congress.

The UNT was formed in April 2003 after the country's traditional labour federation, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, took part in the 2002 military coup and a management-led shutdown of the oil industry from December 2002-January 2003 to try to overthrow the Chavez government.

However, fierce internal divisions have weakened the union federation in recent years.

The push to re-found UNT is being lead by Marea Socialista, the Collective of Workers in Revolution, the Bolivarian Educators and the Cruz Villegas Current, aligned to the Communist Party of Venezuela.

[Abridged from two articles that first appeared in www.venezuelanalysis.com.]