Isabella Picon Ball UWCAD 2006-08
Last Saturday March 1, Colombian troops entered in Ecuadorian territory and killed Raul Reyes, the No. 2 of the FARC (Colombian Armed Revolutionary Forces). Short after, Uribe -Colombian President- called President Correa -Ecuadorian counterpart- to inform him that this action had been taken.
The international outcome:
Ecuador and Venezuela started a legitimate verbal war against Colombia due to the violation of the Ecuadorian sovereignty and most importantly, the fact that President Correa had not been informed of Colombia’s action plan.
Colombia newspaper El Espectador says “Uribe’s popularity is in 84%, the highest in his mandate”. The FARC started as a military section of the Colombian Communist Party in the 1960’s and it is known as one of the military forces that take economic advantage of Colombian drug trafficking by the Carteles by controlling the production and transportation of these products. Moreover, it is known for kidnap, murder and drug trafficking. In this sense, FARC is not so different from the other military forces in Colombia which hold rightist ideological movements but do the same crimes.
A War of Words: Cold War rhetoric
This crisis was immediately used by Latin-American politicians and world journalists as a way to gain popularity, attention or sell newspapers.
Chavez –Venezuelan President- accused Uribe of being a puppet of the USA. This is because Uribe has taken a very hard militarist line against FARC with the financial and military help of the USA through the “Plan Colombia”, which has “military advisors” in Colombia, but with the complete approval of the Colombian government and –so it seems- some of its people. Obviously, this USA help is also because FARC is a well known hard-line Marxist Leninist organization and they would never permit the triumph of anything like that in Latin-America… although the truth is that FARC chose its failure when it started the violence.
Subsequently, President Chavez sent 10 Venezuelan battalions and some warplanes to the border between Venezuela and Colombia. The only non political and reasonable justification for this was that Venezuela was applying a defensive policy: Colombia had entered Ecuador without permission. Ecuador is a country with a political leadership similar to Venezuela’s, so Chavez reasoning was that his country was also in peril. Ecuador also moved 3500 troops to the border, but only after Venezuela did so. Moreover, Chavez has a clear ideology in which any military advance from a USA ally means an imperialistic advance from that power itself. Hence… containment against USA Imperialism.
After the killing of Raul Reyes and at least 21 people (The Guardian reported), The Colombian military found documents and a laptop that they claim to be proof of the donation by the Venezuelan government to the FARC of $ 300 million. Uribe claimed that he would present the proofs to the International Court of Justice.
The military threats and the legal accusations were left in words: Venezuela and Ecuador expelled their Colombian diplomats but now have almost restored relations with Colombia; Uribe, on the other hand, hasn’t presented the proofs that could reveal a concrete –not only ideological- alliance between the Venezuelan President and FARC.
The World Press: not focusing on the Issues.
With the participation of Chavez in the conflict, the press’s newspaper headlines were: “Colombia to Chavez: See You in The Hague”… as the crisis worsened the press was focusing less and less in the actual issues. Personalities and not the context of the crisis remained the main factor.
Why did Colombia enter Ecuador with no permission?
Uribe declared in the recent Latin American Rio Summit in Santo Domingo that the mission against Raul Reyes would have failed if he had informed President Correa. Unfortunately, no one has noticed that this is evidence of the difficulties that the Colombian government has in gathering support against the FARC. The Colombian government says that Chavez and Correa specially haven’t been good allies, with accusation and many reports of increased involvement between Venezuelan military troops and FARC regarding armament and drugs.
Uribe said: “I want no more of this complicity.”
What is Ecuador’s position against FARC?
Why are Ecuador and Venezuela refusing to recognize FARC as a terrorist organization, as most NGO and Organizations and governments do?
Ecuador has been increasingly affected by the actions of Plan Colombia, in which the USA has provided military aid to Colombia against FARC and drug trading. This involved the deforestation of woods and the contamination of legal crops as a result of aerial herbicide spraying of coca crops in Colombia.
In this sense, Plan Colombia has not favored Ecuador. Correa also claims that Colombia does not take good care of the borders, paying more attention to the simple military extermination of FARC within Colombia than to their expansion or aggression into neighbor territories. Moreover, Chavez and Correa have strong ideological similarities. Chavez endorsed Correa’s candidacy to Ecuador’s Presidency and has donated money to Ecuador recently.
Context of the Crisis
Obviously there were many mistakes by both sides in this crisis. Mainly because Latin-Americans are not used to this kind of heat in the conflicts… they generally don’t surpass a “Por que no te callas?”
This was a very bad time for Colombia to enter Ecuador. Recently FARC had agreed to start releasing hostages and Chavez had started to be the mediator between FARC and the Colombian Government. In fact, last December three women were released thanks to Chavez mediation. Raul Reyes was the FARC leader who had negotiated with Chavez this releases and now he is dead.
It is true that Colombia has the right to defend itself from violent forces which daily kill, intimidate people and traffic drugs. However, the killing of Raul Reyes overshadows the prospect of more releasing. Ingrid Betancourt – a former Colombian Presidential candidate who has French nationality, will probably not be released until Colombia’s position and relations with Venezuela normalize completely.
Chavez likes to call attention to himself, or –in other words- away from Venezuelan internal problems: food shortages, industrial strikes and a staggering inflation. Moreover, Venezuela also made the mistake of sending troops to the border when Uribe’s next action was to simply start a “war of words”… which do you prefer? In some way, Colombia also wanted to see Venezuela’s reaction and Chavez reacted violently. However, they know now that Chavez is not going to allow anything like this again… even less when his brand new Russian military armament arrives in 2009.
Into the Future
The main issue here is that many efforts have been made against the violence in Colombia but they are mainly military efforts, when there are many tools at the political level that Uribe could use. However, thanks to impulsive rhetoric and actions, political ideologies are once again hindering us.
In the 1990’s there was an attempt to negotiate with FARC and they even made a demilitarized territory in which they could release hostages, negotiate, etc. This did not work and in fact this territory only served as a path for arms and drug traffic. Then Uribe came and allied with the USA. His main goal is to destroy FARC militarily. This has been working lately> FARC and the other guerrillas are weaker militarily, but not destroyed in their political and organizational level. This is much more difficult to fight.
With Chavez and a leftist Latin-America on the scene with which FARC feels more comfortable, there is the opportunity to mediate politically with the FARC, at least to get some hostages released. In the long run, Colombia has to encourage with actions –and help form Venezuela- the emergence of a political –not military- leadership in the FARC, one that would agree to negotiate with the Colombian government.
Colombia should use Venezuela and Ecuador to mediate with FARC, but the former must not politically misuse this kind of crisis and must understand that Colombia needs strong allies on its borders. Colombia needs an alternative plan to the USA militaristic Plan Colombia if they want some agreements with their neighbors on how to deal with FARC in a political sense and ontheir own territorial borders.