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Chavez Discusses Venezuela-Colombia Conflict with Former Colombian President

By James Suggett
August 08, 2009 -

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with former Colombian President Ernesto Samper in Caracas on Thursday to discuss Colombia's recent decision to expand the U.S.'s military presence in its territory, and Venezuela's threat to cut off economic relations with Colombia if the expansion proceeds.

Going into the meeting, Venezuela held firm that Colombia must not go forward with the deal, which would allow the U.S. to deploy thousands of military personnel on seven Colombian bases, a move Chavez says threatens Venezuelan and regional security.

"No mediation is possible. The only way this situation can return to calm is if Colombia desists from giving its territory to the United States so that it continues planning aggressions against us," said Chavez.

During the meeting, Samper agreed to communicate Venezuela's concerns to the Colombian government. "I have taken attentive notes of [Chavez's] concerns, which I plan to bring to the Foreign Relations Advising Commission that will meet next week in Bogota... and of course, to [Colombian] President [Alvaro] Uribe," said Samper.

At Samper's request, Chavez agreed to meet with the governors of the Colombian provinces along the border with Venezuela to discuss the potential impact of cutting-off bi-national trade, which tallied $7 billion last year.

"I asked [Chavez] to listen to the governors of the border provinces and he said he was going to invite them to Caracas. The leaders of Santander, La Guajira, Arauca, Cucuta, and even Caldas, which sells clothing and auto parts [to Venezuela], will be there," Samper said after the meeting.

On Thursday evening, Chavez spoke on national television and requested a meeting with the former foreign relations minister of Colombia, Maria Mejia, to "de-Uribize" the conflict, referring to President Uribe.

In response to Venezuela's objections to the U.S. military presence last week, Colombia accused Venezuela of aiding the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), saying the Colombian military had seized grenade launchers from the guerilla insurgents that had originally been sold to Venezuela by a Swedish firm in the 1980s. Venezuela says these weapons were stolen from Venezuela in 1995, before Chavez became president.

Since then, Venezuela cut off diplomatic relations with Colombia, suspended the importation of 10,000 Colombian automobiles, and threatened to sever economic ties with Colombia.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama clarified that the U.S. military presence in Colombia does not constitute a U.S. military base in Colombia, since the troops will be operating on Colombian bases.

"We have had a security agreement with Colombia for many years now. We have updated that agreement. We have no intent in establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia," said President Obama. "We have no intention of sending large numbers of additional troops into Colombia," he added.

The U.S. Congress has approved $5.5 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia over the past eight years through its policy titled Plan Colombia, for the official purpose of fighting drug trafficking and terrorism. The U.S. supported a military coup d'état against Chavez in April 2002.



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