The Venezuelan ambassador to Bogota, Gustavo Marquez, said that the seriousness of the situation could not be overstated and that “there is a pre-war situation in the entire region”.
Diplomatic relations between the South American neighbours are frozen and on Saturday President Chavez escalated the war of words with President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia by saying there was no chance of dialogue.
While those who are committed Chavez fans, convinced that he wants only what is best for his people and the region, may accept his claim that this escalation is necessary because Columbia has invited the US to set up military bases in their country, which Chavez sees as presaging a US invasion of Venezuela, most will see this as evidence that Chavez is seeking to establish a national enemy in order to distract his people’s attention from the economic problems the Chavez regime has inflicted on them. His ability to use Venezuelan oil revenues to buy support at home and abroad is suffering because his government-run oil companies have failed to invest in infrastructure and thus have experienced declining output over the last several years.
The broadside came after Colombia detained four members of the Venezuelan National Guard in a boat allegedly on Colombian territory in the remote border province of Vichada. Colombia said yesterday that it would deport the men back to Venezuela.
Tensions between Presidents Uribe and Chavez have escalated in recent months as the two leaders have become increasingly suspicious of each other.
Colombia’s Marxist rebels, the Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), are known to have bases within Venezuela from where they plan and launch attacks on Colombia’s US-backed army.
Mr Chavez hotly denies any links with the rebels, even though there have been seizures of Venezuelan arms and munitions in FARC camps.
President Uribe is trying to diffuse tensions since Mr Chavez began blocking the entry of Colombian goods, something which is costing the fragile economy hundreds of millions of pounds.
He stated that the captured Venezuelan soldiers would be returned as quickly as possible and “carry with them the message that here their affection for our Venezuelan brothers and that this affection is unquenchable”.
Mr Chavez has ordered another 15,000 soldiers to take up positions along the 1300-mile frontier, while Colombia has created a new division of its army to guard a strategic stretch of the border.
Analysts worry that Marxist rebel groups could manipulate the troop build-up by starting a firefight, sparking a war between the two countries.
Please pray for peace in Central America, and that the people of Venezuela will someday be peacefully freed of domination by this militarist strongman.