Colombians protest in streets over Chavez actions
Several thousand people marched in the streets of Colombia's major cities on Friday to protest against what they criticize as meddling by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as tensions rise between the Andean neighbors, Reuters reported.
Chanting "No More Chavez" and waving Colombian flags, the marches snaked through Bogota, accompanied by smaller protests in other cities including Caracas and some in the United States and Europe after organizers called for demonstrations through the Internet social networks Facebook and Twitter.
Venezuela and Colombia are caught in a diplomatic dispute fueled by Bogota's charges the Chavez government supports Colombian FARC rebels and over a Colombian plan to allow U.S. troops more access to its military bases. U.S. foe Chavez warns the dispute threatens more than $7 billion in bilateral trade.
"Chavez has to know that Latin America doesn't belong to him," said Miguel Fierro, one protest organizer.
Chavez, a Cuba ally who urges socialist revolution to counter U.S. influence, says allowing the U.S. military more access to Colombian bases for anti-drug and counter-guerrilla missions is a threat to Venezuela and South America.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and U.S. officials say the plan does not include using the bases to attack other nations. But Chavez has ordered Colombian imports replaced with goods from other countries, though bilateral trade is still flowing.
In Bogota and other cities, protesters carried banners demanding Chavez respect Colombian sovereignty and images mocking the Venezuelan leader who has dismissed the marches against him as "stupid."
"We're protesting with our Colombian brothers because we know what we have in Venezuela is a tyranny, a dictatorship disguised as a democracy," said Maurilio Gonzalez, a Venezuelan engineer marching in Bogota.
The Colombian government recently protested before the Organization of American States over Chavez's "interventionist" project after the leftist leader ordered members of his party to reach out to sympathetic Colombian lawmakers and citizens.
Ties between OPEC member Venezuela and Colombia have soured before in the last five years: once over the arrest of a Colombian rebel in Caracas and last year when Colombian troops killed another guerrilla boss hiding in Ecuador. But trade and diplomatic ties soon resumed after both incidents.