Mr Chávez said Venezuela could end up going to war with Colombia as tensions between them rise, and he warned that if a conflict broke out “it could extend throughout the whole continent”.

“The best way to avoid war is preparing for it,” Mr Chávez told military officers during his weekly television and radio programme. Venezuela’s socialist leader has also cited a recent deal between Bogota and Washington giving US troops greater access to military bases as a threat to regional stability.