President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday that Venezuela is preparing to break off diplomatic relations with Colombia over the neighboring country's plan to give American troops greater access to its military bases.
Chavez said that "there's no possibility" of repairing relations with the government of President Alvaro Uribe and that he instructed his foreign minister to "begin preparing for the rupture with Colombia."
Venezuela and Colombia have been feuding for weeks over the negotiations between Bogota and Washington that would allow the U.S. military to increase its presence at seven Colombian bases through a 10-year lease agreement.
Colombian and U.S. officials say the agreement is necessary to more effectively help Colombia's security forces fight drug traffickers and leftist rebels.
Chavez scoffed at those claims, calling Colombia "a narco-state" and charging its political leadership "lives off" the cocaine trade. He referred to the pending base deal as "a declaration of war against the Bolivarian Revolution," referring to his socialist political movement.
The Venezuelan leader says the U.S. government could use Colombian military installations as launching pads for future operations to unseat Latin American leaders like himself.
The leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador, allied with Chavez, have criticized the pending deal in similar rhetoric, but more moderate leaders in South America also have voiced concerns about the deal.
Many people in the region are wary of a U.S. presence, remembering past decades when administrations in Washington gave support to military dictatorships that ruled harshly.
Latin American leaders and U.S. lawmakers who were not consulted have demanded explanations since the deal was first reported in detail by The Associated Press.
Presidents of South America's nations are meeting in Argentina on Friday to discuss the issue. Uribe is expected to lay out his intentions, but some critics of the plan contend that U.S. President Barack Obama also should attend the meeting.