January 26, 2008 in Nation/World

Chavez: Colombia, U.S. colluding

Jorge Rueda Associated Press

Rice advocates for trade deal

» MEDELLIN, Colombia – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice vowed Friday to continue fighting for a free trade agreement with Washington’s staunchest ally in the region.

» Rice, who was visiting Colombia with nine Democratic lawmakers in a bid to revive the trade pact, did not say whether the White House would follow through on threats to force a vote on the deal, which was signed by both countries in 2006 but still needs U.S. ratification.

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez on Friday accused neighboring Colombia and the United States of plotting a military “aggression” against Venezuela.

“I accuse the government of Colombia of devising a conspiracy, acting as a pawn of the U.S. empire, of devising a military provocation against Venezuela,” Chavez said.

“A military aggression is being prepared,” Chavez added, saying that Washington aims to “oblige us to respond, and later a war could be set off.”

He cited intelligence reports but did not offer evidence to support his claim.

Venezuela and Colombia have been locked in a diplomatic crisis since November, when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ended Chavez’s mediation role with Colombia’s leftist rebels in seeking a hostages-for-prisoners swap.

Chavez warned Colombia not to attempt a “provocation,” warning that it would trigger a decision by Venezuela to cut off all oil exports.

Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of plotting to oust or kill him, though it was the first time he has accused Colombia’s U.S.-allied government in such strident terms.

He spoke as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Colombia, saying she and two other senior American officials who have visited Bogota recently “came to attack Venezuela” in their remarks. Rice did not mention Chavez during her earlier public statements in Colombia.

Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, spokesman for Uribe, said his government had no immediate comment.

The trouble between the two countries began in November, when Uribe accused Chavez of overstepping his authority by directly contacting Colombia’s army chief while trying to broker the prisoner swap.

Chavez responded by freezing contacts with Uribe and calling home the Venezuelan ambassador in Bogota for consultations. That ambassador has yet to return.

Chavez has continued his contacts with the rebels, though, and earlier this month the largest guerrilla group freed two Colombian women held captive for years to Venezuelan officials.

The Colombian government later reacted with outrage when Chavez urged world leaders to stop classifying the rebels as terrorists.

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