With the highly anticipated summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) three days away, the debate over the U.S.’s increased presence on Colombian military bases continues. Venezuela vowed to defend its natural resources, Colombia accused Venezuela of expansionism, and Noam Chomsky analyzed the conflict during a visit to Caracas.
On national television on Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said the intention of increasing U.S. troops in Colombia is to control the region’s natural resources.
"The United States is desperate because they have few oil reserves left... that is the reason for their threats against us," said Chavez. "They know that in order to take over the Orinoco Oil Belt [in Venezuela] they should de many things, including overthrow this government."
Chavez said the U.S. also seeks to control Brazil’s oil reserves, and a large fresh water reserve that lies in the territory of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Brazil recently announced the discovery of a 280 million barrel reserve 120 kilometers outside of Rio de Janerio.
"The United States also has its eye on the Amazon, that enormous treasure," said Chavez, as he took out a map of Latin America and marked where the major oil, timber, mineral, and fresh water reserves are located across the continent. "We should prepare ourselves to defend our natural resources," he said.
In the Organization of American States (OAS), Venezuela’s ambassador, Roy Chaderton, said Venezuela "shares the concern of the nations of South America regarding the threats of foreign intervention and the use of our territories to develop expansionist military projects, destined to generate destabilization in the short term, as well as favor strategic imperial interests in the medium and long term."
Colombia’s ambassador to the OAS, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, accused the Chavez government of having its own "expansionist projects," namely, Chavez’s announcement that the Venezuelan Information and Communication Ministry will attempt to publish the president’s weekly opinion column "Chavez’s Lines" in Colombia.
Hoyos wrote an official statement that asserted, "The national government will repel all actions of the expansionist projects in Colombia ratified today by President Hugo Chavez."
Chavez said he intends to use his column to respond to the Colombian government’s accusations that Venezuela supports Colombian guerrilla insurgents, amongst other misinformation and distorted news about Venezuela.
"I have the right to defend Venezuela with my words and address the people of Colombia... I call on the Colombian people not to allow themselves to be confused or intimidated," said Chavez. "Whoever claims to be anti-Colombian is anti-Venezuelan too, because we are the same thing."
Colombia firmly maintains that it will neither negotiate nor renege on its military plans with the U.S., and that neither President Alvaro Uribe nor Colombian Chancellor Jaime Bermúdez will attend this Friday’s UNASUR summit. Most regional heads of state are expected to attend the summit, and a major item on the agenda will be the U.S. military buildup in Colombia.
In a press conference last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that the agreement with Colombia will not affect other countries in the region. "This is about the bilateral cooperation between the United States and Colombia regarding security matters within Colombia," including "drug traffickers, terrorists, and other illegal armed groups," she said.
"The agreement does not create U.S. bases in Colombia. It does provide the United States access to Colombian bases, but command and control, administration, and security will be Colombia’s responsibility," Clinton continued.
In response, Chavez said the main issue is not who will administer the bases, rather that that U.S. plans to use Colombia as its base to expand covert intelligence operations across the region.
"Now they say they aren’t bases... but really it is all of Colombia that they are converting into one base... the gringo [US] military personnel are going to be authorized to operate in any part of Colombia. They say they will ask for permission and limit their operations to Colombian territory. That’s a lie, who’s going to believe that story?" said Chavez.
Meanwhile, Brazil has drawn up a special military plan to defend its vast natural resources, according to its Defense Minister, Nelson Jobim. As part of the plan, France will assist Brazil in constructing a nuclear-powered submarine to patrol the oil reserves off the Brazilian coast, said Jobim.
Jobim also stated publicly that he had spoken with General James Jones, a national security adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama, about the U.S. military presence in Colombia. "I told him that we must not forget that we are in a sensitive continent and that this type of thing must be explained and discussed beforehand, not carried out in a unilateral manner," said Jobim. "What we hope for is stability in the region, respecting the individual ideological options that the diverse countries may have."
Venezuelan Foreign Relations Minister Nicolas Maduro proposed the organization of "Peace Bases" in Venezuela and across the region. The bases "should be centers for the debate of ideas about the Latin American situation and to reject violence and the installation of U.S. military components in South American territory," said Maduro.
Regarding the UNASUR summit, Maduro said, "Venezuela has a very clear position and in this presidential summit, we seek important conclusions which allow the justification of our peace initiative, and that the North American military bases begin a process of reversion on the continent."
- Hugo Chávez with Spanish version of Chomsky’s "Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance" at the UN General Assembly on September 20, 2006.
Maduro’s idea was echoed by U.S. linguist, author, and activist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky met with President Chavez in Caracas on Monday and spoke on national television of the need for a regional agreement not to allow foreign military presence. "Venezuela can help to advance this proposal, but it cannot do it alone," he said.
The U.S.’s military buildup in Colombia "is only part of a much broader effort to restore Washington’s capacity for intervention," said Chomsky. He mentioned that the U.S. has already supported three coups d’etat in Latin America this century, first in Venezuela in 2002, then Haiti in 2004, and currently Honduras.
Chomsky urged Venezuela to continue its efforts at progressive political changes. "The transformations that Venezuela is making toward the creation of another socio-economic model could have a global impact if these projects are successfully carried out," he said.
US military base plan fuels Latin American tensions, by Bill Van Auken, Voltaire Network; 5 August 2009.