When Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez turned up at a news conference in Caracas last week with anti-tank rocket launchers in tow, it was clear he meant to send a message to Colombia. Now, after weeks of escalation, Chávez says he’s bracing for all-out combat with his South American neighbour.
Relations between the two countries hit rock bottom in late July, when Colombian officials announced that weapons found in the hands of FARC—Colombia’s largest guerrilla army—came from Venezuela. The discovery could not have come at a worse time; tensions had already been mounting due to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s recently announced plans to house American troops at its military bases.
“These bases could be the start of a war in South America,” Chávez charged. “We’re talking about the Yankees, the most aggressive nation in human history.” Denying any aid to FARC rebels, Chávez pulled his ambassador from Bogota and warned of a host of new trade restrictions.
The situation seemed to improve last weekend, when Chávez voiced his hope to resume “the path to an agreement with Colombia.” But this was the (very brief) calm before the storm. On Sunday, Chávez accused Colombian troops of crossing the border into Venezuela. Uribe’s government denied the incursion, but Chávez still ordered his military to ready itself for armed confrontation, saying “the winds of war were beginning to blow.”
In the meantime, evidence of Venezuelan aid to Colombia’s left-wing FARC guerrillas is building. Most recently, emails found on a computer seized from a FARC leader suggest collaboration with senior Venezuelan officials.
Chávez continues to deny that he assists the rebel group, which is classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, deflecting the blame to his favourite adversary. “The [U.S.] empire is an expert at making brothers fight,” Chávez told a crowd of supporters. “Provoking a war between Venezuela and Colombia is among the Yankee empire’s plans.”