( AP ) - President Hugo Chavez today urged Venezuela's allies to form an "anti-imperialist" military alliance to defend Latin America from possible attacks by the United States.
Warning that Washington poses a threat to regional security, Chavez called on Nicaragua, Bolivia and communist-led Cuba to "put together a common defense strategy and create our armed force" - a military coalition united against U.S. dominance in the region.
"The enemy is the same: the empire of the United States," Chavez said during his weekly television program. "Anybody who messes with one of us will have to mess with all of us because we will respond as one."
U.S. officials have denied any plan to invade Venezuela or assassinate Chavez.
The Venezuelan leader, who says he is leading the country toward "21st century socialism," made the proposal amid deteriorating relations between Venezuela and Colombia, which he claims Washington is trying to sabotage in order to isolate his government.
"We are sure the Colombian government is following the line that Washington dictates," Chavez said.
The South American neighbors have been locked in a diplomatic crisis since November, when Colombia's U.S.-allied president, Alvaro Uribe, ended Chavez's role mediating a hostages-for-prisoners swap with leftist Colombian guerrillas.
Chavez angered Uribe by later urging world leaders to classify the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the smaller National Liberation Army as "insurgents" rather than "terrorists" - a first step toward possible peace talks with guerrillas.
The simmering spat has brought diplomatic relations to their lowest point in years - although it did not keep Chavez from sending Venezuela's top diplomat to a weekend summit of South American foreign ministers in Cartagena, Colombia.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who accompanied Chavez on today's program, said U.S. officials are using Colombia as a strategic pawn in ongoing efforts to counter regional integration initiatives championed by Chavez.
"This isn't just against Venezuela, it's against the integration process," Ortega said of alleged U.S. efforts to undermine Colombian-Venezuelan relations.
Ortega, who has been an outspoken critic of Washington, warned that any U.S. military strike against Venezuela would be like "setting fire to the entire region," sparking unrest throughout Latin America.