MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened to cut off oil to the United States if his country is invaded by Colombia, a U.S. ally. This comes days after Chavez broke off relations with Colombia over charges that his country harbors Colombian guerrillas.
The situation is so serious that South American countries have called an emergency session tomorrow to discuss the crisis.
NPR's Juan Forero has the story from Bogota, Colombia.
JUAN FORERO: In a bombastic speech, Chavez told his countrymen war was imminent and that it was the Yankee empire orchestrating the coming bloodbath.
President HUGO CHAVEZ (Venezuela): (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: And if the attack came, Chavez said, he'd shut off the oil spigot to the United States, even if that meant Venezuelans would be forced to eat rocks.
This has been a regular threat over the years, and it plays well to Chavez's most radical followers.
(Soundbite of chanting)
FORERO: But Chavez's latest diatribe comes at a particularly delicate time. Last week, in a special emergency session of the Organization of American States, the Colombian ambassador to that body, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, detailed how Venezuela allegedly aided and abetted Marxist rebels who've been fighting Colombia since the '60s.
Hoyos showed satellite photographs and video he said showed how guerrillas operate inside of Venezuela. The problem, some critics of the Colombian government say, is there was nothing new. It's all been well established since 2008, when Colombia's army seized reams of rebel documents suggesting close ties between Venezuela and FARC guerrillas.
The Venezuelans have denied the allegations and instead accuse the Obama administration of planning to attack, using Colombia as its proxy. Venezuela's ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, told reporters on Tuesday that his country was on red alert.
Ambassador BERNARDO ALVAREZ (Venezuelan Ambassador to Washington): We don't see anything coming from Colombia without the U.S. knowing and promoting because if you see the script of the accusations, its exactly the same script that has been presented by the U.S. since 2003, that I came here.
FORERO: Analysts like Adam Isacson, who tracks military matters in this region, see a more complex picture.
Mr. ADAM ISACSON: Venezuela's protestations that these are somehow fake videos and fake pictures doesn't hold water. I mean, clearly the FARC have encampments and facilities on the Venezuelan side of the border, and their leaders cross the border quite easily.
But Isacson, from the Washington Office on Latin America, asked why now? Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, leaves office on August 7th, to be replaced by Juan Manuel Santos. Why stir the pot with only moments left to his administration?
Isacson noted that Uribe's successor, Santos, has been working to improve relations with Chavez. He says Uribe may not have been comfortable with that.
Mr. ISACSON: It looked like a rapprochement was in the works. It seemed clear that Uribe was sending a message to the president-elect as much as he was sending a message to Chavez.
FORERO: Santos was Uribe's defense minister when some of the biggest blows were delivered against the FARC rebels. This includes the daring 2008 rescue of 15 hostages, including three American Defense Department contractors.
Since his election in May, though, Santos has distanced himself from Uribe. He has appointed independent-minded ministers, some of them tough critics of Uribe's style of governing. Santos also invited Venezuela's president, Chavez, to his inauguration.
Santos told NPR in an interview shortly before he won the presidency that he wanted to make relations with Venezuela a priority.
President-elect JUAN MANUEL SANTOS (Republic of Colombia): If we respect our differences, then we could have good relations. And we must never forget, never forget, that when two heads of state fight, the people who suffer are the common people.
FORERO: Now, Chavez says he won't be attending Santos' inauguration. And many in the region are wondering if relations between the two countries have any chance of improving.
Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota.
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