Ortega Pitches Ties with Chavez; Claims 'Sovereignty' on Islands

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Byline: Martin Arostegui, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia - Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is proposing a military alliance with Venezuela, while pressing a legal challenge to Colombia's control over a tiny group of Caribbean islands in an area thought to have untapped oil deposits.

Mr. Ortega appeared to link the two issues during a weekend speech, using the common thread of virulent anti-Americanism and antipathy toward Colombia that he shares with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

At one point, Mr. Ortega said Nicaragua would establish a "mutual defense" against any attack.

In the same address to his ruling Sandinista party, he accused Colombia of not respecting Nicaragua's "sovereignty" over three Caribbean islands and their surrounding waters.

"We have to affirm our sovereign rights before international organisms, but we also have to defend ourselves mutually as nations of ALBA," Mr. Ortega said. He was referring to the "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas," a regional pact promoted by Mr. Chavez that also includes Cuba and Bolivia.

Mr. Ortega's anti-American rhetoric was routine, but the significance of his speech was the revival of an 80-year-old dispute over the Caribbean islands of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina.

Mr. Ortega spoke with Sandinista officials on Sunday, shortly after appearing with Mr. Chavez on the Venezuelan weekly talk show "Hello President," in which Mr. Chavez repeated calls for a regional military alliance against the U.S. and lambasted Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as a "pawn of imperialism."

Relations between Venezuela and Colombia have deteriorated as a result Mr. Uribe's reluctance to accept Mr. Chavez as a mediator in talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist rebel group known by its Spanish acronym FARC. …