Venezuela, Colombia and the threat of war in Latin America

Issue 

The possibility of an imperialist war in the Americas came a step closer on October 30, when Colombia and the United States finalised a 10-year accord. The agreement allows the US to hugely expand its military presence in the Latin American nation.

It comes as the US seeks to regain its dominance over Latin America, which has declined over the past decade in the context of a continent-wide rebellion against neoliberalism — spearheaded by the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.

To regain control of its "backyard", the US has resorted to more interventionist measures. This is reflected by the recent military coup in Honduras, destabilisation of progressive governments in Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Paraguay and a massive military build-up in the region.

The US has also built new military bases in Panama and has reactivated of its Fourth Fleet to patrol Latin American waters.

Over the past decade, the Venezuelan government, which is the fifth largest oil exporter in the world, has sharply increased social spending.

This had led to some significant achievements, such as the halving of poverty levels, the eradication of illiteracy, and the provision of free universal education and healthcare for the poor.

In 2005, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declared the revolution to be socialist in its aims. Since then, the government has sought to promote grassroots democracy and participation, through the creation of institutions such as urban land committees, health committees, grassroots assemblies, communes, workers' councils and communal councils.

However, these pro-poor policies have bought the Chavez government into conflict with powerful economic interests in Venezuela and the US.

The new US-Colombia military deal poses a direct threat to this radical process of social change.

Tensions between Venezuela and the US-aligned government of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have risen because of the military agreement.

With the finalisation of the accord, Chavez declared that Colombia had handed over its sovereignty to the US. "Colombia today is no longer a sovereign country ... it is a kind of colony."

Under the deal, the US military has full access to two air bases, two naval bases, three army bases and all international civilian airports across the country. This is in addition to existing US use of two other military bases in Colombia.

The deal also grants US personnel full diplomatic immunity from prosecution for any human rights abuses or other crimes committed on Colombian soil.

US officials claim publicly that only 800 personnel will operate in Colombia, but the deal places no limits on the number of military personnel that can be deployed.

The US has repeatedly denied that Colombia will be used as a launch pad for military interventions in other South American countries.

However, as James Suggett said in a November 4 Venezuelanalysis.com article, the US military's financial documents tell a different story.

"The Pentagon budget for the year 2010 says the Department of Defense seeks 'an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America'", Suggett said. It "cites a $46 million investment in the 'development' of Colombia's Palanquero air base as a key part of this".

The 2010 fiscal year budget of the US Air Force Military Construction Program, said the Palanquero base "provides a unique opportunity for full spectrum operations … where security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, [my emphasis] endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters".

Colombian paramilitaries operating illegally in Venezuela's oil-rich border regions, together with the right-wing opposition in Venezuela, are the advance guard of imperialist plans to defeat the Bolivarian revolution.

Tensions flared in recent weeks when the bodies of nine Colombians, believed to have been executed by an illegal armed group, were found dumped in the border state of Tachira in October. The Venezuelan government said the group was part of a "paramilitary infiltration plan."

In addition, Venezuela announced it had captured three Colombians inside Venezuela accused of spying for Colombia's intelligence service.

On November 2, armed gunmen shot two Venezuelan National Guard members dead at a border checkpoint. In response, the Venezuelan army has begun massive security sweeps of the border region.

Former Colombian president Ernesto Samper, who has criticised the bases deal, said in a recent interview "we are in a pre-war situation … the situation could harden and reach extremes."

An armed conflict is a possibility. However, the current tactic of the US is to destabilise the Venezuelan revolution in the hope that it will collapse.

A war would also be dangerous for the US — already bogged down in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even a proxy war via Colombia could easily spiral out of control.

Latin America's poor, downtrodden and marginalised have had a taste of independence; it is likely they would fight back.