CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez portrayed himself as a man of peace Wednesday, even as he moved tanks and soldiers to the Colombian border in a growing crisis set off by Colombia's weekend attack on leftist rebels hiding in Ecuadorean territory.
Most of the 9,000 soldiers mobilized by Chavez have reached the frontier and are "ready to defend the sacred sovereignty of the homeland" if necessary against Colombia's U.S.-supported military, the defense ministry said. Ecuador said it sent 3,200 soldiers to its border with Colombia on Monday.
Chavez blamed the crisis on the U.S. "empire and its lackeys" — Colombia's conservative government — saying they pose a constant threat of war in the region, not Venezuela or Ecuador. "We are peace. We are the path to peace," the leftist leader said in a televised speech.
Chavez and his ally, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, have been seeking international condemnation of Colombia for the commando raid on Ecuadorean soil that killed a key Colombian rebel leader and other guerrillas Saturday.
They scored a victory of sorts in Washington on Wednesday, where the Organization of American States approved a resolution drafted jointly by Ecuador and Colombia declaring the attack a violation of Ecuador's sovereignty. The resolution also called for OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza to lead a delegation to both countries to held ease tensions.
The United States was the only OAS nation offering Colombia unqualified support. Many other countries worried openly about the attack inside Ecuador, which along with Venezuela has been accused by Colombian officials have providing refuge to leftist Colombian guerrillas.
Correa called Colombian President Alvaro Uribe a liar who "wanted war," and warned that if the attack goes unpunished, "the region will be in danger, because the next victim could be Peru, it could be Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, any one of our countries."
Uribe, whose decision to attack the rebel camp reflected his frustration over the ability of guerrillas to find refuge across poorly patrolled jungle borders, said he would not mobilize troops or allow his nation to be drawn into war with his neighbors.
Ecuador's security minister, Gustavo Larrea, conceded that problem. The FARC had promised not to operate inside Ecuador, and the attack showed the rebels "did not keep their promise," he told The Associated Press.
Correa suggested Colombia's attack was carried out to sabotage efforts by Venezuela and Ecuador to persuade the rebels to release more hostages.
The attack killed two dozen rebels, including Raul Reyes, the public face of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, who was involved in the hostage negotiations.
Colombia's government says its commandos recovered a laptop computer full of documents that it alleges show FARC has ties to both Chavez and Correa.
In Washington, a top U.S. diplomat said American experts would soon examine the computer's hard drive. "This is the first time that we've stumbled across something coming from the FARC drawing such a straight line" between the rebels and Chavez, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon said.
In his speech, Chavez did not refer to Colombian allegations that he had given $300 million to the FARC and conspired with the rebels to embarrass Colombia's government. Venezuela earlier denied the charges.
Other documents released by Colombia suggest Reyes was secretly negotiating with representatives of France, Venezuela, Ecuador, the U.S. and other nations on freeing hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American defense contractors.
Those representatives were said to include Larrea, Ecuador's security minister, who said in his interview with AP that he didn't rule out the possibility the rebels still might release Betancourt.
"We think an adequate response, in this critical moment for the Andean region, is that they free the hostages," he said.
The FARC freed four hostages last week, and Chavez had pledged to try to win freedom for others.
The rebels said Reyes died "completing a mission to arrange, through President Chavez, a meeting with (French) President (Nicolas) Sarkozy" aimed at securing Betancourt's release.
Venezuela's military hasn't released many details about troop movements along its border with Colombia, which runs for 1,370 miles through thick jungles and forbidding mountains in a region where Colombians and Venezuelans have routinely crossed the frontier and mixed freely.
Despite a statement by Venezuelan Agriculture Minister Elias Jaua that imports and exports worth $5 billion a year were being shut down, the military said it had no orders to close the border. Some cargo trucks were still being allowed through, although others were not.
In several border towns, there was little sign of tension, apart from the frustration of drivers being turned away. Contenting themselves by calling Chavez "crazy," Colombian truckers lounged in the shade, drinking beer and saying they hope the crisis won't persist long.