Quito: Leftist leaders from Venezuela and Ecuador thundered against a US military presence in Latin America on Monday, warning the “winds of war” were blowing across the increasingly polarized continent.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led the charge, attacking Colombia’s decision to host American forces at seven of its bases, a move also condemned by Chavez’s Ecuadoran counterpart and ally Rafael Correa during the inauguration of his second term.
Speaking in Quito at a regional summit, Chavez said he was fulfilling his “moral duty” by telling fellow leaders that the “winds of war were beginning to blow,” because of the July accord between Bogota and Washington.
“This could generate a war in South America,” he told the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) meet in the Ecuadoran capital.
The heightened rhetoric came a day after Chavez accused Colombia’s leader Alvaro Uribe and the Colombian military of “provocations” by entering Venezuelan territory.
Colombia’s foreign ministry denied the charge.
Moderate Latin American countries, led by Brazil and Argentina, agreed in Quito to hold a summit, probably in Argentina later this month, to discuss the deal that has angered many in the region.
They said Uribe, America’s main ally in the region, would be invited to explain his case. The Colombian leader was not present at the UNASUR gathering because of ongoing tensions with Correa.
Colombia raised concern throughout the region, which has a troubled history of US military interventions, when it announced a deal on July 15 to allow American forces to coordinate anti-drug operations from seven of its military bases.
“I hope the installation of these bases… does not strengthen the warmongering policies of the (Colombian) government and the fight, not against drug trafficking, but against the insurgent governments of our America,” Correa said in his inaugural address.
Ecuador recently refused to renew an agreement with Washington that saw the US military installed at the Manta Air Base on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.
Chavez has led a diplomatic offensive against the Colombia-US agreement in recent weeks, saying he feared the move amounted to preparations for an invasion of his country by a “Yankee military force.”
Colombia and the United States have insisted the bases are meant only to expand the US fight against drug trafficking in Colombia.
“The Yankees are starting to command the Colombian armed forces; they are the ones who are in charge, who are in charge of these provocations, who make up huge lies,” Chavez has charged.
On Sunday he stepped up his accusation against Uribe, accusing the Colombian military of having entered Venezuelan territory, although he didn’t specify when.
“We are not talking about a patrol with a few soldiers that strayed over a border” into Venezuela, Chavez said during his television show “Hello President.”
“These troops crossed the Orinoco River in a boat and carried out an incursion into Venezuelan territory. When our troops got there, the Colombians had already gone away,” he said.
In Bogota, the Colombian Foreign Ministry said the military had checked with the units in charge of guarding the border along the river in the provinces of Vichada and Guainia and that the Venezuelan accusations “are not true.”
The new charges follow last month’s decision by Chavez to freeze relations with Colombia in response to accusations leveled by Bogota that Venezuela was supplying weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist guerrilla group.
Ecuador, an ally of Venezuela’s, is also wary of the bases announcement. It cut off relations with Bogota after Colombia’s military staged a cross-border raid into its territory in March last year to destroy a rebel camp.
Both Venezuela and Ecuador nearly went to war with Colombia over the incursion, although Raul Reyes, one of the most senior FARC leaders, was killed in the attack.
Colombian soldiers that entered the camp also recovered computer hard drives and flash drives with data they say links Chavez to both the leftist guerrillas and the illegal drug trade.