Thursday :: Mar 6, 2008

Tense


by Turkana

I've been meaning to post about this, because it's an important story that is getting little play in the corporate media or major blogs...

Tensions have been building between Colombia and Venezuela, and it could easily explode into a serious crisis. As reported by Agence France-Presse, on Monday:

Ecuador has severed diplomatic ties with Colombia and Venezuela expelled all Colombian diplomats in an escalating regional crisis sparked by a cross-border raid against Marxist rebels.

The diplomatic moves came as Colombia accused both its neighbours on Monday of colluding with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) -- which has been waging a four-decade guerrilla war against the government in Bogota.

Ecuador angrily rejected the allegations and severed diplomatic relations, citing "a succession of events and unfriendly accusations".

Bogota said computer records seized from a FARC camp inside Ecuador proved the allegations of collusion, and said it would present the evidence to the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), due to meet on the matter on Tuesday.

Colombia's cross-border raid on the rebel camp on Saturday, which killed FARC's number two commander Raul Reyes, triggered the current crisis with Venezuela and Ecuador responding by massing troops on their borders with Colombia.

But it's worse than that. Agence France-Presse also had this:

Venezuela and Ecuador moved their armies to the Colombian border and shut down their embassies in Bogota, as tensions soared over Colombia's cross-border killing of a top Colombian FARC rebel in Ecuador.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday he was sending troops, tanks and fighter aircraft to his country's border with Colombia, a move the White House called an "odd reaction" to Colombia's fight against what the US government deems "a terrorist organization."

I'm no fan of Hugo Chavez, but there's nothing odd about Venezuela arming its border after a hostile neighbor sent troops across the border of a Venezuelan ally. What it is, however, is dangerous. Troops on the border, diplomatic relations severed, and trade sputtering to a halt.

An indignant Ecuador government complained that Saturday's raid violated its territorial sovereignty, and also recalled its ambassador to Bogota, warning that Colombia's actions might result in "ultimate consequences."

Correa also canceled a visit to Cuba to deal with the crisis at home, while Ecuador's foreign ministry lodged a formal protest with Bogota.

Colombia, for its part, insisted Sunday it did not violate Ecuador's sovereignty, because the military operation was taken for "legitimate defense."

And here's the fun part: Colombia's hard right government is one of the Bush Administration's favorites; the left wing governments of Venezuela and Ecuador are not; and Venezuela is the most militarily powerful of the three. Should war break out, Colombia could be overwhelmed. Now, thanks to Bush's disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq, our own military readiness has been damaged, and we really don't have to resources to be helping Colombia in a war. One would think that would mean Bush wouldn't try to interfere, should war break out. But that assumes Bush is capable of thought.

What's clear, however, is that Bush, as usual, will be in no position to offer leadership in trying to mediate a peaceful resolution. And Colombia today is accusing Chavez of helping fund FARC. But Frank Bajak, of the Associated Press, thinks the tough talk is mostly posturing:

But there is little appetite for armed conflict in the region despite Chavez's recent purchases of $3 billion in Russian arms, including 53 military helicopters, 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles and 24 SU-30 Sukhoi fighter jets.

The economic costs, to begin with, are far too high.

Too many people depend on cross-border trade worth $5 billion a year, most of it Colombian exports sorely needed by Venezuelans already suffering milk and meat shortages. Ecuador depends on some $1.8 billion in trade with Colombia.

And militarily, Colombia has become a formidable foe, thanks in large part to $5 billion in aid from Washington since 2000. U.S. military advisers are sprinkled throughout Colombia's military, and Washington could quickly ramp up support if war broke out.

Chavez's critics say his saber-rattling is intended to deflect attention from mounting domestic woes.

Let's hope so. Bloomberg yesterday reported that Colombian stock markets have rebounded, indicating that the business community is growing more confident. And leadership is being shown by Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. From Xinhua:

The Brazilian government said on Monday it will make diplomatic efforts to ease tensions among Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela triggered by a Colombian trespass on Ecuadorian soil to attack rebels.

Colombian forces on Saturday killed 21 rebels, including the No. 2 figure of the guerilla group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a camp inside Ecuador 3 km from the border. The incident has seriously strained the diplomatic relations between Colombia and its neighbors, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Brazilian Presidency's Foreign Affairs Assistant Marco Aurelio Garcia said that he expects to mobilize "all the forces of the Brazilian diplomacy and of other South American capital cities to reduce the tension" and "find a long-lasting solution to the problem."

According to Garcia, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will talk to Argentine President Cristina Kirchner about cooperation in the diplomatic effort, in which the Chilean government has also stated its wish to participate.

Which is more cause for hope. But one interesting twist emerged, today. McClatchy has it:

The Organization of American States issued a compromise resolution Wednesday that said Colombia had violated Ecuador's "territorial integrity'' by attacking a left-wing guerrilla base in Ecuador.

But the resolution, backed by Venezuela and several other nations, stopped short of condemning Bogota for the March 1 raid, which killed a top rebel commander and led to the capture of what Colombia has said are computer documents that link the guerrillas to the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador.

Meanwhile, the U.S.'s top-ranking diplomat for Latin America told a House committee that Colombia has promised soon to share the hard drives from the captured computers with the United States.

Thomas Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Interamerican affairs, said Colombia has said that the seized hard drives contain documents that prove links between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadroean President Rafael Correa.

Lawmakers reacted angrily to reports on some of the alleged contents of the hard disc, which suggest that Chavez offered the guerrilla group $300 million. But Shannon said that the United States wants Ecuador and Venezuela to "work together, establish protocols'' to fight the FARC.

Now, this is complicated. First of all, evidence taken from an illegal raid is such standard fare for the Bush Administration that it shouldn't be a surprise. And given the Administration's greenlighting of Turkey's raids into northern Iraq, we also know that they're not particularly concerned with other nation's sovereignty. But these hard drives themselves, and the evidence that will be claimed to have been found on them will also be suspect. Because we know that Bush is trying to discredit Hugo Chavez. But we also know that Chavez hasn't been above discrediting himself.

So, we really won't know what to believe, no matter what is claimed by each side. Let's just hope that diplomacy prevails, but until those troops leave the border, this will bear watching.

Turkana :: 5:12 PM :: Comments (11) :: Digg It!