CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s army warned neighbour Colombia yesterday it was ready to repel any attacks a day after President Hugo Chavez cut ties over Bogota’s charges that Venezuela was harboring leftist Colombian guerrillas.
Socialist Chavez’s severing of diplomatic relations has ratcheted up tensions between OPEC member Venezuela, a major supplier of oil to the United States, and U.S. ally Colombia. Their volatile Andean region has long been plagued by marauding guerrilla armies and drug-trafficking gangs.
But while Venezuelan leaders heaped invective on outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, calling him a “warmonger,” Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua said, “The situation on the frontier is normal.”
Despite the break-off in ties, the main crossing point between San Antonio del Tachira in Venezuela and Cucuta in Colombia was open yesterday and vehicles and pedestrians were crossing, witnesses said. There was no sign of any immediate military build-up, although searches at road blocks on the Venezuelan side seemed to have been stepped up.
Most analysts believe a military clash is unlikely, but Colombia and Venezuela are among the most militarized nations in South America and have sparred and squabbled in the past over border security and guerrillas.
Venezuelan Defense Minister General Carlos Mata appeared on television, in military fatigues and flanked by top commanders, to declare loyalty to Chavez and to sternly warn Uribe.
Uribe, who will be replaced by President-elect Juan Manuel Santos on Aug. 7, has ramped up accusations that Chavez’s government gives free rein to left-wing guerrillas in Venezuelan territory.
Mata, echoing Chavez’s words, rejected what he called Colombia’s “aggression.” Venezuela has dismissed as lies the charges by Colombia, which presented photos, videos and maps to the Organization of American States to back its allegations about the rebels’ presence.