Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
on Sunday ended a subsidy on fuel sold to the OPEC nation’s
neighbor Colombia in a growing diplomatic spat over plans to
host more U.S. troops there.
Persistent Washington critic Chavez is furious at a plan to
house a few hundred more U.S. troops at seven Colombian
military bases and says it risks sparking war in South
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe says the troop plan is
necessary to fight drug traffickers but Chavez claims a greater
U.S. presence in the region is a direct threat to him.
“Stop the supply of (subsidized) fuel to Colombia right
now, let them buy it at its real price. How can we favor the
government of Uribe like this?”
Under a 2008 agreement, Venezuela sells between 50,000 and
120,000 barrels of subsidized gasoline each month to Colombia
to combat rampant fuel smuggling.
Chavez has already taken measures against Colombia’s state
oil company and car exporters, and on Sunday urged companies to
buy less from one of Venezuela’s top trade partners. He
previously warned the fuel deal was under review.
The two countries shared $7 billion in commerce last year,
with Venezuela exporting oil and chemical products in exchange
for food and textiles.
Venezuela has some of the world’s cheapest gasoline, which
costs just a few U.S. cents to fill a large tank and makes
contraband sales to more costly Colombia big business.
The OPEC nation says it loses 27,000 barrels per day and $1
billion per year to traffickers ranging from small-time
peddlers to large-scale smuggling.
Chavez withdrew his ambassador from Bogota for about a week
in the diplomatic spat but late on Friday night ordered him
Chavez joins other South American leaders on Monday for a
summit in Ecuador, where the base plan is expected to top the
agenda. U.S. ally Uribe is not attending, but toured the region
to drum up support.
Colombia, the world’s No. 1 cocaine producer, has received
more than $5 billion in mostly military aid from Washington to
fight drug traffickers and FARC rebels. The base deal is an
extension of an existing military cooperation accord.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday denied the United
States is planning to set up military bases in Colombia as part
of the upgraded security agreement and said he has no intention
of sending large numbers of additional troops.
The United States is in talks with Uribe’s government
about relocating U.S. drug interdiction flight operations to
Colombia after being kicked out of neighboring Ecuador.
The plan is expected to increase the number of U.S. troops
in Colombia above the current total of less than 300 but not
above 800, the maximum permitted under the existing military
pact, officials said. (Reuters)