Venezuelan 'Peace Bases' to Counter U.S. Military Buildup in Colombia with Binational Reconciliation
By James Suggett
August 28, 2009 - venezuelanalysis.com
In a movement to counter the expansion of the United States military presence on Colombian bases, Colombian and Venezuelan civil society organizations and government officials are collaborating to organize spaces of binational reconciliation called "peace bases."
Local, state, and national elected officials, consuls, immigrant organizations, community councils, and everyday citizens have participated in the founding of Venezuela's first peace bases this month.
The bases turn public spaces into forums where Colombians and Venezuelans discuss peaceful solutions to the armed conflict in Colombia, which has raged for four decades and continues to affect neighboring Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, the rest of Latin America, and the United States.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced earlier this month that the peace bases should provide free medical services and address other pressing needs of the community of Colombian immigrants in Venezuela.
Chavez also said the bases should improve the communication between Venezuelans and Colombians so that Venezuelans learn the about the everyday lives and struggles of Colombians, and Colombians "get to know what is really being said and done here in Venezuela," as opposed to the negative information and anti-Chavez attacks that are predominant in the Colombian media.
"They have the right to know that they are our brothers and sisters, that we are their friends and that we are not a threat to Colombia," Chavez said in a nationally televised meeting with his Council of Ministers.
Venezuela's first peace base was established in the city of Valencia, Carabobo state on August 12th, with the presence of Colombian opposition Senator Piedad Cordoba.
"In Colombia, the problems are not going to go away with more war. There are problems that do not go away by murdering everybody, problems such as poverty," said Cordoba during the inauguration ceremony for the peace base.
Cordoba said she would invite Ecuadoran society to form peace bases, as well, and request that President Rafael Correa encourage their formation. Ecuador was the victim of a Colombian military air and ground attack on a guerrilla encampment in its territory last year, an event which sparked a regional diplomatic crisis and spurred the Brazil-led initiative of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) to form a regional defense council to diffuse potential military conflicts.
This week, peace bases were established in the border states of Zulia and Táchira, the coastal state of Falcón, and the eastern state of Anzoátegui. The Association of Colombians in Venezuela said its peace base in Barcelona, Anzoátegui, plans to use the Barcelona city council as a forum for discussion.
According to the president of the Association of Colombians in Venezuela, Juan Carlos Tanus, the group plans to create as many as seventy peace bases in Venezuela, beginning with a planned twelve peace bases in different stations of the Caracas Metro this coming September 12th.
"The peace bases are going to be the stage for meetings and co-existence, where we will be able to work with the Colombian and Latin American community on the real dimensions of the social and armed conflict that Colombia suffers internally," Tanus said earlier this month.
On Wednesday, Venezuelan vice Minister of Foreign Relations for Latin America and the Caribbean Francisco Arias Cardenas attended the inauguration of a peace base in the town of Paraguaipoa in the northwestern zone of Zulia state called the Guajira.
According to Arias Cardenas, the base seeks the "integration and union between Colombia and Venezuela, and an end to the internal war in Colombia by way of dialogue." Both countries' national anthems were played at the event to symbolize this objective, said the vice minister.
On Thursday, Arias Cardenas attended the inauguration of another peace base on the cross-border bridge which connects the two nations in the city of Ureña, Táchira state. The participants extended a sheet along the bridge on which they collected signatures against the Colombia-U.S. military deal, and distributed pamphlets advocating against the military buildup.
In Falcón state, National Assembly Legislator Alberto Castelar participated in the establishment of a peace base on Thursday. Castelar said, "Peace is the principal objective of these bases, which are mobile spaces on which forums, workshops, and meetings will take place."
In the end of July, a deal between the U.S. and Colombia to allow the U.S. to place thousands more troops and expand surveillance operations on as many as seven Colombian bases was made public.
Venezuela, describing the deal as a threat to the region, broke off and then restored diplomatic relations with Colombia, and has since vowed to replace its commerce with its second largest trading partner by expanding trade with other countries in Latin America and abroad.
This century, the U.S. has granted more than $5.5 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia under the auspices of the so-called ‘war on drugs' and counter-insurgency.