Chávez sees U.S.-Colombian war plans
But critics say Venezuela's president is trying to distract from economic problems at home.
San Antonio, Venezuela
A Venezuelan National Guard sergeant looks across the Táchira River that marks the Venezuelan-Colombian border. On the other shore, a man on a bicycle is shaking his fist and shouting: "You are going to kill us all from hunger. Let us work!"Skip to next paragraph
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The sergeant shrugs and returns to his border outpost under a shade tree.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has ordered the National Guard to crack down on the smuggling from Venezuela to Colombia where food and fuel fetch prices at least twice as high. Thousands of people along the 1,300-mile border live off the illegal trade.
But the anger expressed by the man on the bicycle reflects a broader tension building between Bogotá and Caracas that some analysts say is being stoked by Mr. Chávez to deflect attention from problems at home.
This past Friday, Chávez said that Colombia and the United States are plotting a military "aggression." He cited recent visits to Colombia by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; US Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the head of the US Southern Command, Adm. James Stavridis.
"I accuse the government of Colombia of designing a conspiracy, a war provocation against Venezuela, following orders from the US ... that could spark a war," Chávez said.
But Colombians say it is Chávez who wants to spark a conflict.
Over the weekend, Chávez called on Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua to form a military alliance against attacks by the US. A day later Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused Colombia of stepping up military operations around Colombian islands in the western Caribbean claimed by Nicaragua.
The Colombian foreign ministry issued a statement Monday saying: "Colombia has never been, nor will it be, an aggressor country."
Colombian defense analyst Alfredo Rangel says that what he calls Chávez's "verbal incontinence" is just an attempt to deflect attention from an increasingly critical economic situation in Venezuela and recent setbacks suffered by Chávez. "You can't confuse a temper tantrum with a war," he says.