In response to accusations that Venezuela is preparing for a conflict with Colombia, President Hugo Chavez clarified on November 11 that his recent statements to the Venezuelan people and moves by the Venezuelan Armed Forces along the border are plainly defensive. He emphasizes that they have been made in response to the recent military agreement between the U.S. and Colombia that directly threatens Venezuela’s sovereignty.
In the wake of the agreement, which allows the U.S. military access to seven Colombian bases, President Chavez ordered the Venezuelan Armed Forces to take defensive measures including the deployment of 15,000 troops along the border shared by the two countries. The deployment of troops also responds to the need to fight drug trafficking and combat suspicious activity by Colombian paramilitary groups, including spying and violent acts against the Venezuelan government. In a speech on November 9, President Chavez stated, “[I] encourage my people and my soldiers to prepare to defend this country against the threat that is posed by the seven [U.S] military bases in Colombia.” He also stressed that protecting peace required being ready for conflict.
The agreement relating to the Colombian bases is of significant concern to the region due to the underlying foundations of U.S. military presence in Colombia, as was expressed by 11 of 12 member-states of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in an emergency summit on August 28, 2009.
In a budget request presented to Congress in May 2009, the U.S. Air Force outlined an engagement in Colombia that puts fighting drugs second to “full spectrum operations” which are not defined. “Development of this CSL [Cooperative Security Location] provides a unique opportunity for full spectrum operations in a critical sub region of our hemisphere where security and stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded terrorist insurgencies [and] anti-U.S. governments,” it said.
Added to the vague provisions of the agreement itself, this document seems to stress that U.S. military presence in Colombia will serve the larger political and strategic purpose of acting against governments that do not agree with U.S. policies. Given the history of U.S. involvement in Latin America, the region and Venezuela are rightfully concerned for its security.
In a statement on November 10, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry additionally pointed out that Colombia has in the past launched unprovoked attacks on its neighbors. In March 2008, Colombia attacked an alleged FARC encampment on Ecuadorian territory under the guise of preemptive war, marking a dramatic departure from the regional principle of non-intervention and respect for sovereignty.
Given the threatening foundation of the agreement between the U.S. and Colombia and Colombia’s history of unprovoked aggression, Venezuela has been forced to adopt defensive measures. Venezuela does not seek conflict with its neighbors; rather, it has taken a number of steps to help promote peace within Colombia. Those steps have included working as an intermediary with insurgent groups to secure the release of hostages, including three U.S. contractors. Venezuela has also dramatically improved its provision of services and refuge to Colombians fleeing their country’s conflict.
Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the U.S. Press and Communications Office/November 12, 2009