US base plans escalate Colombia-Venezuela border tensions

Colombia’s Defense Ministry assured that the US air base now housed at Manta, Ecuador, would not be relocated to the Colombian Caribbean coastal zone of La Guajira—hours after Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said Bogotá was “playing with fire,” and that his country could revive claims to sovereignty over La Guajira if the plan went ahead.

Speaking to a meeting of police commanders in Bogotá May 15, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said this was his response “to the people who are trying to stir up a storm in a glass of water… I would say to those who are circulating this information, that they should inform themselves better, because it is not going to happen. I repeat, bases in Colombia is not going to happen.”

Chávez said earlier that day: “This is a thing that we cannot accept. This, for example, is an explosive thing, because then we can say: When did the Venezuelan Guajira arrive [in Colombian hands]? All La Guajira was Venezuela. We never ceded this territory. This land was taken from us… Now, what does Colombia want? That we return to discussing this?”

“I accuse the government of Colombia of playing a perverse game to destabilize South America, not only Venezuela, but Ecuador and still other countries. This is very dangerous.”

The US ambassador in Bogotá, William Brownfield, said April 11 that he had opened discussion with Colombia on the possibility of relocating the base there. No site has yet been named. (El Tiempo, Bogotá, May 15)

An area mentioned in later reports was the Guajira, near the Venezuelan border. Colombia’s Foreign Minister Fernando AraĂşjo also said Bogotá had no plans to allow the US to establish a base there. (NYT, May 16)

On the Venezuelan side of La Guajira, in Zulia state, local authorities in the Páez Indigenous Municipality also spoke out against plans to relocate the base to the region. The mayor (alcalde), Eber ChacĂłn, called on the Wuayuu people, who span both sides of the border, to repudiate attempts by the Venezuelan opposition to divide them with their “autonomist and separatist positions.” (RNV, May 16)

See our last posts on Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador.