How U.S. intervention in Colombia escalating its conflict with Venezuela.

by Zach Mason

24 Nov 09 | Socialist Worker

Recurring tensions between neighboring South American countries Venezuela and Colombia have reached new heights in recent weeks.

The current conflict centers around the October 30 signing of a military pact between Colombia and the U.S. that gives the American armed forces the use of seven military bases in Colombia, and grants immunity to U.S. soldiers operating in there.

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and President Barack Obama claim that the U.S. military presence in Colombia will serve only to combat narco-traffickers and leftist guerillas, not threaten Colombia’s neighbors. Yet as the Venezuelanalysis.com Web site reports, this claim “is contradicted by the 2010 fiscal year budget of the U.S. Air Force Military Construction Program, which states that… the pact ‘provides a unique opportunity for full-spectrum operations in a critical sub-region of our hemisphere’ and ‘supports mobility missions by providing access to the entire continent.'”

What’s more, the agreement on military bases follows the reactivation of the U.S. Navy’s Fourth Fleet, historically used by Washington to intimidate and attack countries that challenge its agenda in the Caribbean and Latin America.

For years, the U.S. has pumped money and weapons into Colombia and sent military advisers there in the name of fighting “narco-terrorism.” As a wave of left or center-left governments have been elected in Latin America, military aid to Colombia has swelled, making it the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world.

The October 30 U.S.-Colombia pact will dramatically escalate ongoing U.S. military intervention in the region. In this context, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has called on his country’s armed forces to prepare for the possibility of conflict, declaring that “we must prepare for war…. This will be the guarantee for peace.”

Chávez also took the opportunity to call on Obama to give back his Nobel Peace Prize, saying, “He keeps sending more troops to Afghanistan, and the war is spreading across this part of Eurasia, Pakistan, [and] in Iraq, they are still bombing children and entire families, and they are supporting the coup in Honduras.”

The U.S. refusal to try to reverse the right-wing Honduras coup has given a big boost to right-wing opposition groups across Latin America. So it was little wonder that Venezuela rejected an offer by the U.S. State Department to mediate the dispute between Colombia and Venezuela by helping to find “practical solutions.”

Chávez responded by calling the U.S. government “the champion of cynicism,” saying, “United States, if you want practical solutions, withdraw the Yankee bases in Colombia and free those fraternal people, free Colombia.” A statement issued by the Venezuela Ministry of People’s Power for Foreign Affairs noted, “The strengthening of the U.S. military presence is aimed at demonstrating its global power to dissuade, under the threat of military intervention, countries like the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that are critical of imperialist U.S. policies.”

Venezuela froze diplomatic relations with Colombia back in July when the latter first announced plans to allow U.S. military access to its bases. This was the third such diplomatic clash since 2005.

In that year, Venezuela recalled its diplomats from Bogota after it was discovered that Colombian agents had been operating illegally inside Venezuela. Again, and more seriously, relations were frozen in March 2008 when Colombian forces bombed a guerilla encampment inside Ecuador, killing leftist rebels. The attack violated both international law and the sovereignty of Ecuador, an ally of Venezuela.

Since the signing of the U.S.-Colombian pact on bases, tensions have continued to mount, with a series of incidents on the Venezuela-Colombia border. On November 2, two soldiers in the Venezuelan National Guard were shot dead at a border crossing, most likely by Colombian paramilitaries who have been increasingly active inside Venezuela. Venezuela responded by closing and occupying the border crossing in question and sending thousands of troops to border regions.

The pressure rose still further in mid-November when Colombian armed forces captured four members of the Venezuelan National Guard on a boat on the Meta River, part of which constitutes the border between the two countries. The men were later deported to Venezuela, but Venezuela responded by blowing up two border bridges in the area that authorities claimed were being used by Colombian drug traffickers.

Whatever the details of the confrontation on the Meta River, Venezuela’s decision to brace for possible military conflict is based on a credible threat from across the Colombian border. Right-wing paramilitary groups have been a powerful force within Colombia for decades. Formed by local oligarchs, these private armies are the result of a narco-economy in which the line between traditional capitalists and drug lords is blurred—if it exists at all.

There’s also a great deal of overlap between the paramilitaries and the official Colombian military. Colombian President Uribe has himself been linked to the paramilitaries. A U.S. intelligence document from 1991 lists then-Senator Uribe as a “close personal friend of Pablo Escobar,” the notorious drug lord killed in 1993.

Since Uribe became president in 2002, a number of Uribe’s close political allies have been questioned or charged in relation to paramilitary activity. So while Colombia acts as a proxy of U.S. imperialism, paramilitaries act as a proxy of the Colombian state and ruling class. This makes Colombian paramilitaries operating in Venezuela a literal vanguard of reaction.

Venezuelan Vice President Ramón Carrizález called the recent killings “part of a destabilization plan that we’ve been reporting.” In 2004, dozens of Colombian paramilitaries were captured deep inside Venezuela when a plot to overthrow the government was uncovered. Whether or not these forces are in direct contact with U.S. intelligence, they are clearly working in concert with U.S. interests.

The prospect of a dramatic increase in the U.S. military presence in Colombia is certainly ominous for the region’s leftist governments—Ecuador and Bolivia as well as Venezuela. These countries are already under pressure from both internal right-wing oppositions and imperialist intervention. Even the center-left government of Brazil, which has done Washington’s bidding by running the United Nations occupation of Haiti, expressed sharp opposition to the U.S.-Colombian deal on military bases.

The growing U.S. military presence in Latin America poses a challenge to the antiwar movement and the left in the U.S. We must be prepared to oppose the imperialist war machine, wherever and whenever it goes on the offensive—whether directly in Afghanistan and Iraq, or indirectly through its clients like Colombia.

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