Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lashed out at an agreement for American troops to use more Colombian military bases on Friday, accusing the U.S. of aiming to start a conflict and urging his military to be prepared.
Chavez heightened his conflictive tone toward the U.S. and Colombia in a speech to more than 1,000 red-clad supporters, bellowing "Down with the Yankee empire!"
He blamed Washington for Venezuela's tensions with Colombia, saying the deal giving U.S. troops expanded access to Colombian bases poses a major threat. He said U.S. troops will "plan war beneath our very noses."
Chavez said he is not calling for war, but rather warning about a situation that could disturb the peace. He said the U.S.-Colombia base deal will facilitate U.S. military control in the region.
Colombia has sought to assuage Chavez's concerns, saying U.S. troops would be operating solely on Colombian soil to help its military combat drug trafficking and leftist rebels. U.S. officials say they have no aggressive intent against Venezuela.
Long-standing tensions between Venezuela and Colombia have recently been exacerbated both by the base agreement and by shootings and slayings along their shared border.
Chavez spoke to a supporters who marched through Caracas to protest the U.S.-Colombia agreement.
Some held a banner reading, "We don't want Colombia to be the Israel of Latin America." One woman carried a sign picturing U.S. President Barack Obama beneath the words, "Imperialism with a mask of hope."
Chavez likened the U.S. military to the fictional spy James Bond, saying: "We have 007 here, right here in our beloved Colombia."
The fiery former paratroop commander already ordered his military last weekend to prepare for a possible conflict with Colombia in case the U.S. attempts to provoke one.
His opponents accuse Chavez of using the threat of war to turn the public's attention away from domestic problems such as rampant crime and electricity and water rationing. They dismiss his talk of war as laughable.