The Associated Press
July 01, 2008
SAN MIGUEL DE TUCUMAN, Argentina -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told South American leaders on Tuesday that the U.S. Navy's newly reactivated Fourth Fleet poses a threat to Latin America.
Chavez urged leaders of the South American trade bloc Mercosur to ask the U.S. government why the fleet is being re-established.
"I think we deserve an explanation," Chavez said during a speech. "I don't have any doubt it's a threat."
The Fourth Fleet was active during World War II but was dissolved in 1950. The U.S. Navy announced earlier this year that it would re-establish the fleet to direct naval forces in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The U.S. Navy has said the fleet would be operational starting Tuesday at Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville, Florida. U.S. officials say it will help maintain security and carry out military exercises, humanitarian missions and counter-drug operations.
But Chavez sees darker purposes. Turning to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Chavez asked him and other leaders to imagine if Latin America were to send a similar fleet to northward.
"Lula, you have nuclear submarines - you have them hidden there - and we have 24 Sukhoi planes and more are going to come," Chavez said, referring to warplanes Venezuela recently bought from Russia.
"I seriously think we should ask the United States government, 'what is this, what are you trying to do?'" Chavez said.
The socialist president, who frequently accuses the U.S. of trying to oust him, noted that his close friend Fidel Castro of Cuba has raised similar concerns about the fleet.
Chavez also urged Mercosur leaders to move quickly on creating a South American defense council, an idea proposed by Silva.
"I hope we can activate it soon and even begin to study defensive strategy," Chavez said.