Bolivian President Evo Morales proposed Wednesday that South Americans vote in a continentwide referendum on Colombia's plan to give the U.S. military greater access to its military bases.
Morales said he will take the proposal to Friday's meeting of the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, which will discuss negotiations between Bogota and Washington to allow increased U.S. military presence at seven Colombian bases through a 10-year lease agreement.
"If the Colombian president wants his bases to be used, I say I want a referendum in South America so the people of Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina _ all 12 countries _ can decide," said Morales, who called the proposal a provocation by the U.S. to create conflict and stall integration in the region.
The leftist governments in Venezuela and Ecuador also have criticized the pending deal, which the U.S. says is necessary to help Colombia fight drug trafficking and leftist guerrillas.
Ecuador's national assembly passed a resolution Tuesday saying the U.S. use of Colombian military bases would undermine peace in the region.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez referred to the pending base deal as "a declaration of war against the Bolivarian Revolution," referring to his socialist political movement.
Colombian officials deny the agreement is a threat to its neighbors, and say it is necessary to more effectively help Colombia's security forces fight drug traffickers and leftist rebels.
U.S. diplomat Christopher J. McMullen, speaking in Uruguay Wednesday, said no one is proposing a U.S. base on Colombian soil, and the agreement is clear in that the U.S. will respect territorial sovereignty and not intervene in the affairs of other countries.
"We don't think it's responsible for a leader such as President Hugo Chavez to speak of the winds of war because it doesn't serve the cause of peace in the hemisphere," said McMullen, deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
UNASUR meets in Bariloche, Argentina.