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2009-11-23

Tension mounts between Colombia and Venezuela

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Venezuelan troops get ready to blow up a bridge between their country and the Colombian department of North Santander on Nov. 19, 2009.

Venezuelan troops get ready to blow up a bridge between their country and the Colombian department of North Santander on Nov. 19, 2009.

Monday, Nov. 23

BOGOTA, Colombia – With bilateral relations frozen since July, the diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela deepened on Nov. 19, after Venezuelan troops blew up two cross-border footbridges.

Venezuelan Infantry General Eusebio Agüero Vergara told El Tiempo that Venezuela decided to blow up the bridges over the Tachira River after finding that they were being “constantly” used by paramilitary groups and drug traffickers, as well as by smugglers of gasoline, food and chemicals used in illegal drug production. The bridges linked the Colombian department of North Santander and the Venezuelan state of Tachira.

However, Venezuelan Undersecretary for Latin America and the Caribbean Francisco Arias Cárdenas admitted, according to Caracol Radio, that the demolition had been “planned and prepared” and that the underlying reason for it was the cooperation agreement under which U.S. forces are allowed the use of Colombian military bases to combat narcoterrorism. “All these things,” said Arias, “have their origin in Colombia’s foreign policy.”

Although he described the demolition of the bridges as “very serious,” Colombian President Alvaro Uribe maintained a conciliatory tone toward Venezuela and ruled out military retaliation. Uribe told RCN that he would avoid “verbal provocations” and would refer the case to international bodies.

The Colombian Foreign Ministry announced, according to El Tiempo, that it would inform the U.N. and the OAS of “the destruction of two cross-border footbridges … by the Venezuelan National Guard.”

Venezuelan Vice President and Defense Minister Ramon Carrizalez responded by calling Colombia’s plan to take its case to international bodies “a new provocation” and “a further manipulation” by the Uribe government.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who recently called on his people “to prepare for war,” according to La Jornada, asked the European Union to urge the U.S. and Colombia not “to convert South America into an area of instability” with their Oct. 30 cooperation agreement.

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