President Hugo Chávez called Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos a “threat to the peace in South America” and pledged to hit back hard if Colombia made any military incursion into Venezuela. “Sadly, and it would hurt me to the bottom of my soul, I would immediately have the Suhkoi fighters fired up and the armored tanks; I am not going to let anyone disrespect Venezuela’s sovereignty for anything in the world,” Chávez said on his weekly TV broadcast “Aló, Presidente.”
Chávez was responding to comments Santos made March 1 in the Bogotá daily El Tiempo, arguing that Colombia had a right to strike “terrorists systematically attacking the country even if they are not located inside its own territory.” Santos referred to a case last year in which Colombian troops crossed Ecuador’s border to raid a FARC guerilla base.
Santos “has been declared an enemy of Venezuela,” Chávez said, adding: “What Minister Santos has said is a threat to the peace of South America and what he represents, the most fascist current of the Colombian oligarchy.” He charged that Santos hoped to “turn Colombia into the Israel of South America.”
Chávez also said he had discussed his concerns with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe by phone. Since the international crisis that followed last year’s Ecuador raid was resolved in a Santo Domingo conference, Chávez has avoided direct criticism of Uribe. This time, he offered a guarded reproach: “One does not understand President Uribe at times, with all due respect. I don’t want to return to the fights of the past, no.” He added: “Well watch out President Uribe with this far rightwing trend, because I don’t even want to think about it crossing Minister Santos’ mind to do the crazy thing in Venezuela you did last year in Ecuador.”
He also warned of a possible Washington design behind Santos’ threat, saying that “a war between Colombia and Venezuela, between Colombia and Ecuador would be ideal to justify an intervention… I hope President Obama keeps his word and respects sovereignty around the world.” (AFP, BBC News, March 9)