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Chavez warns against US troop surge in Colombia

Video by Luke BROWN


Latest update : 2009-08-06

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned regional leaders on Wednesday that a build-up of US troops in neighbouring Colombia, a move backed by his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe, could lead to conflict in Latin America.

REUTERS - South America’s hard-line leftist leaders on Wednesday criticized U.S. plans to deploy extra troops at Colombian bases, accusing Washington of using the war on drugs as a pretext to boost its regional military presence.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is meeting South American presidents this week to try to drum up support for the U.S. plan to base anti-drug flights in the world’s top cocaine producer after the U.S. military lost access to a base in neighboring Ecuador.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez—an outspoken critic of Washington—said the Colombian plan could be a step toward war in South America and called on U.S. President Barack Obama not to increase the U.S. military presence in Colombia.

“These bases could be the start of a war in South America,” the socialist Chavez told reporters. “We’re talking about the Yankees, the most aggressive nation in human history.”

Chavez previously put his troops on alert in diplomatic disputes with neighboring Colombia but then backed down.

A close Chavez ally, Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca farmer who ousted U.S. anti-drug agents last year, said Colombia’s drug-funded FARC rebels had become Washington’s “best tool” to justify military operations in the region.

“What did the United States say when it invaded Iraq? They said (former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) had weapons of mass destruction. Where are they? Saddam was the real target. In our region, the pretext is the fight against drug-trafficking,” said Morales, who met Uribe on Tuesday.

“We can’t have all these planes and military equipment concentrated in Colombia. This is against the FARC. This isn’t against drug-trafficking, it’s against the region. Our duty is to reject it,” Morales told a news conference.

Chile says it's Colombia's decision to make

Uribe met on Wednesday with Chile’s moderate leftist president, Michelle Bachelet, whose government was more restrained.

“The decisions that every country takes are sovereign and must be respected,” Chilean Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez told reporters.

In Peru, the world’s No. 2 cocaine producer, Uribe got support from President Alan Garcia, a pro-Washington conservative who is one of his few allies in the mainly left-leaning region.

Uribe’s security drive would give U.S. forces access to seven Colombian bases and increase the number of American troops in the Andean nation above the current total of less than 300 but not above 800, the maximum permitted under an existing pact.

Uribe was also scheduled to visit Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a moderate leftist leader, has expressed concerns over the U.S.-Colombia talks on an expanded U.S. presence.

Uribe, who is deciding whether to run for a third term, has very tense relations with neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela and is not visiting their presidents on his tour.

Colombia has clashed with its neighbors on several occasions after the government’s battle against rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, spilled across its borders.

The guerrilla army is funded by the cocaine trade and has fought an insurgency against the state for 45 years.

Date created : 2009-08-05