President Hugo Chavez marked the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s independence movement with celebrations and a gathering of his closest Latin American allies.
Mr. Chavez greeted Raul Castro of Cuba, Evo Morales of Bolivia and other leaders on Monday as he presided over a parade that included troops, Amazonian Indians carrying bows and arrows, flag-waving supporters and civilians who have joined government militias.
Wearing the trademark red beret of his army paratrooper years, Mr. Chavez reiterated his accusations of U.S. government meddling in Latin America while praising Venezuela’s move toward “democratic socialism.”
“The moment has come for us to reach true sovereignty and independence” in the region, Mr. Chavez said.
Russian-made fighter jets roared overhead, and special forces troops shouted in unison: “I’m an anti-imperialist socialist!”
Mr. Chavez hosted a Monday night summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Nations of Our America, or ALBA - a left-leaning bloc aimed at boosting Latin American integration and countering U.S. influence.
Flanked by his allies, Mr. Chavez warned that Colombia would become a serious threat to its neighbours if Juan Manuel Santos, the favourite in polls to succeed President Alvaro Uribe, wins the presidential election.
“This is a threat to all of us, especially for Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua,” Mr. Chavez said.
Chavez said he’s convinced that Santos would be willing to launch cross—border raids or bombardments if Colombian authorities suspect rebel groups are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
The issue of the impact of Colombia’s war against Marxist guerrillas on its neighbours has been the cause of much antagonism toward Bogota since March 1, 2008, when Colombian warplanes wiped out a rebel camp in Ecuador.
The raid prompted Ecuador and Venezuela to break diplomatic relations with Colombia. Mr. Chavez, along with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, have re-established relations with Bogota, but they remain fiercely critical of Uribe.
Mr. Correa said his government is still “trying to patch up our bilateral relations” with Bogota. He warned against another military raid on Ecuadorean territory, saying: “We will know how to respond.”
Venezuela celebrates two dates for independence: April 19, 1810, when revolutionary-minded citizens decided to rule themselves until Spanish King Ferdinand, who had been unseated by France, was restored to the Spanish throne.
More than a year later, on July 5, 1811, Venezuela decided for a more definitive break with Spain and signed an official declaration of independence.
Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, noted that many colonies remain in the Caribbean and said: “We have to do something about this.”
“The colonialists at every turn must feel the anger and the wrath of the people of the Caribbean,” Mr. Gonsalves said.
Mr. Chavez and the visiting leaders attended a flower-laying ceremony at the tomb of independence leader Simon Bolivar, the inspiration for Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” movement.
Opposition politician Pablo Medina criticized the government-organized celebration, saying Venezuela is less independent than ever because Mr. Chavez’s administration “is falling under the growing influence of communist-led Cuba” and its leaders, Mr. Raul and Mr. Fidel Castro.
“Venezuela is headed toward a dictatorship, and the Castro brothers are helping him establish it,” said Medina, a former Chavez ally.
Mr. Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and is up for re-election in 2012, insists he is committed to democratic principles.
Critics counter the socialist leader is becoming increasingly authoritarian, noting that several of his foes have been imprisoned in recent years on what they call politically motivated criminal charges.
Keywords: Celebration time,