Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez gathered his closest Latin American allies to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence movement and used the occasion to denounce US “meddling”.
Raul Castro of Cuba, Evo Morales of Bolivia and other leaders accompanied Mr Chavez as he presided over a parade that included troops, Amazonian Indians carrying bows and arrows, flag-waving supporters and civilians who have joined government militias.
Wearing the trademark red beret of his army paratrooper years, Mr Chavez reiterated his accusations of US government influence in Latin America while praising Venezuela’s move toward “democratic socialism.”
“The moment has come for us to reach true sovereignty and independence” in the region, he said.
Russian-made fighter jets roared overhead, and special forces troops shouted in unison: “I’m an anti-imperialist socialist!”
At a summit later of his left-leaning Bolivarian political bloc-- which is aimed at boosting Latin American integration and countering US influence – Mr Chavez complained about the leading candidate to succeed Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Flanked by his allies, Mr Chavez warned that Colombia would become a serious threat to its neighbours if former Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos wins the presidential election.
“This is a threat to all of us, especially for Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua,” Mr Chavez said.
He said he was convinced that Mr Santos would be willing to launch cross-border raids or bombardments if Colombian authorities suspect rebel groups are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
In Colombia, Mr Santos said that Mr Chavez’s remarks “clearly indicate that he wants to interfere in the election.”
Colombia’s war against Marxist guerrillas has spilled over into neighbouring countries, leading to regional antagonism toward Bogota, especially since March 1, 2008, when Colombian warplanes wiped out a rebel camp in Ecuador.
The raid prompted Ecuador and Venezuela to break diplomatic relations with Colombia. Mr Chavez, along with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, have re-established relations with Bogota, but they remain fiercely critical of Uribe.