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W.E. Gutman: Is the U.S. prepping Colombia to attack Venezuela?

Posted: April 9, 2010 5:58 p.m.
Updated: April 11, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Relations between Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe hit rock bottom last October. Intelligence sources in Bogotá quote Colombian officials as saying that the risk of an armed clash with Venezuela by mid-2010 is real.

There is no rational reason for Colombia and Venezuela to go to war. However, heightened tensions, troops massed along the border and the destabilizing presence of Colombian insurgents contribute to an atmosphere where a minor skirmish could spark a major conflagration.

Neither Colombia nor Venezuela is doctrinally or operationally prepared for conventional warfare, but both have sufficient firepower to inflict considerable damage.

The latest spat erupted when the U.S. and Colombia signed a 10-year bilateral defense agreement. The pact gives the U.S. access to seven military bases in Colombia, raising strong criticism from human rights groups who fear that this expanded U.S. role in South America will translate into increased military intervention, internal dislocation of civilians and more needless casualties in that nation’s decades-long civil war.

Chávez claims, not without some merit, that the agreement is a transparent act of aggression designed to ensure U.S. control and facilitate a U.S.-led invasion of Venezuela.

With this agreement coming on the heels of the loss of access to military bases in Ecuador, the U.S. is poised to strengthen its ties with a military establishment known for some of the worst human rights abuses in this hemisphere.

According to a U.S. Air Force document, the agreement gives the U.S. “an opportunity to conduct full-spectrum operations throughout South America against threats from the drug trade, guerrilla movements, anti-U.S. regimes and a growing leftist presence in the region.”

A U.S. intelligence source who spoke on condition of anonymity told me, “You should assume that we are monitoring things very closely. In part, this is the result of Chávez purchasing tanks and aircraft from Russia, among other vendors. Chávez is a former military man and the assessment is that he sees military options as familiar and within the scope of his comfort zone.

“With the highly theatrical ouster of President Manuel Zelaya and the contrived election of right-wing Porfirio Lobo to replace him, we are also closely observing Honduras’ ties to the U.S. and Colombia. I don’t believe Colombia has any intention to fight the druglords — and neither does Honduras. (Colombia’s) Uribe is president because the druglords put him there and are leaving him there for a third term. Drugs have nothing to do with the U.S.-Colombia-Honduras triangle. The problem, perceived or real, is Hugo Chávez. These three countries are fencing the apparent spread of his brand of communism.”

It seems clear that Latin America is splitting into two camps. consisting of pro-U.S. and anti-U.S. factions, with Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela forming an alliance against Colombia.

The continent is becoming increasingly polarized. Venezuela is buried under a mountain of debt and other financial problems stemming from Chávez’s erratic governance — think of Mussolini’s “socialist-fascism” — and just as inept.

Latin American governments are by nature lacking in even a modicum of skill and the chronically corrupt private sector is slowly being driven away or nationalized.

“The situation will deteriorate further,” my source added. “The U.S. is mightily distracted in other parts of the world. If we are not careful, there could be a blowout in this region while we’re not looking. Even a brilliant multitasking Obama may be unable to block the ever-present threats from Iraq and Afghanistan, the menace of a nuclear Iran and volatile North Korea, and such powder kegs as Yemen, Somalia and the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

U.S. policy toward Colombia has undergone several permutations and metamorphoses — a direct result of America’s growing discomfort with Chávez’s strident rhetoric and erratic style. For the time being, his bark is worse than his bite but he does give off an odor of megalomania and unpredictability.

Any pretense that the U.S. is poised to launch counter-narcotics operations from Colombia is absurd and a smokescreen designed to divert attention from what looms as a steadily growing U.S. military presence in Hugo Chávez’ back yard.

The U.S.-Colombia pact operates from the same failed military mindset that gave rise to the infamous U.S. Army School of the Americas (antiseptically re-christened the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).

Obama’s decision to flex U.S. military muscle — sure to placate his adversaries on the far right — threatens to destabilize the entire region. U.S. presence on Colombian soil creates a scenario for what could potentially be a major war on the continent.

W. E. Gutman is a journalist and author. From 1994 to 2006, he reported from Central America where he covered politics, the military, human rights and other socio-economic issues. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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