We will stand with you: Hillary to Colombia

Hillary said the US will back Colombia as it heads for leadership change.

Bogota: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Wednesday that the Obama administration will continue to support Colombia as it heads for a leadership change amid tensions with neighbouring Venezuela.

Hillary made the pledge in talks here with outgoing President Alvaro Uribe and the two candidates vying to succeed him in elections this month. She said President Barack Obama will continue to back Colombia`s anti-drug and counterinsurgency programs no matter who wins.

"The United States has been proud to stand with Colombia and we will continue to stand with you in the future," Hillary told a joint news conference with Uribe.

She did not directly mention neighboring Venezuela, but two U.S. officials said Washington is well aware of potential threats to Colombia from Venezuela — as well as from Marxist guerrillas, drug traffickers and others.

"Colombia is the best judge of the threats it faces and the way that it wishes to go about meeting those threats," Hillary said, when asked about Venezuela.

Then, in an apparent reference to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, she added, "But I want to underscore for anyone who is listening or watching that the United States will stay a strong partner with Colombia in meeting the security needs that Colombia faces."

Uribe has accused Venezuela of aiding the FARC guerrillas. Chavez has said that a recent US-Colombia agreement that gives the US increased access to Colombian military bases is a threat to his country.

Hillary played down such concerns, and Uribe said the deal was completely "transparent”.

The US is trying to reduce the influence of Venezuela`s Chavez, whose populist, anti-American policies and rhetoric have gained currency in the region.

In a speech on Wednesday night in Venezuela, Chavez derided Hillary and the US "empire”.

"She`s free to like me or not like me," Chavez said, breaking into a popular Latin American song with the lyrics, "But I don`t like her either."

Colombia has received more than USD 6 billion in US military and other aid since 2000 under Plan Colombia.

Bureau Report

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