Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lonely Colombia

It seems war has been averted in the northern part of South America, as Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador agreed to disagree at an emergency session of the Organization of American States in the Dominican Republic this week. This followed Colombia’s bombing of a jungle base on Ecuadoran territory which killed Raúl Reyes, a top leader of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the rebel group that has posed a serious threat to the Colombian state for thirty years. The raid elicited outraged reactions not only from Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, but also from Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Venezuela and Ecuador sent troops to the Colombian border, and for a few nervous days it seemed as if a real shooting war might break out. The OAS meeting restored calm by agreeing to investigate the matter but, tellingly, stopped short of condemning Colombia. The countries have re-established diplomatic relations and sent the troops back to the barracks.

Mexico is up in arms as well, since it emerged that several Mexican students who were in the camp were killed or wounded. Demonstrations all over the region are condemning Colombia’s Álvaro Uribe for ordering the raid, and President Bush’s declared support for Uribe is taken as evidence that this is yet another case of U.S.-backed oppression of those who would lead Latin America out of poverty and underdevelopment. The FARC has the ear of the world’s university students and those whose sympathies lie on the political left.

Who you root for depends on your political convictions, of course, but it’s getting harder to pretend that the FARC is a legitimate political and social movement. They may have been starry-eyed idealists thirty years ago, but as Colombia has become more prosperous and more democratic, the FARC has become more and more criminalized. Their principal lines these days are drugs and kidnapping for ransom, both of which are lucrative enough to keep them going, but neither of which makes much of a political platform. Colombia’s previous president, Andrés Pastrana, declared a cease-fire, handed over a large chunk of the country to the FARC as a safe zone and started negotiations, only to see the FARC use the breathing room to step up recruiting and widen its drug and kidnapping operations. Many of the FARC’s hostages were kidnapped during the supposed negotiations and some have been held for years.

On the other side, Colombia is a functioning democracy, with alternation of power by elections, an array of genuine political parties and a free press. It is admittedly a democracy under stress, and the Colombian elite has been criticized for its links to the vicious right-wing militias which were as bad or worse than the FARC, but two things should be pointed out: the right wing paramilitaries emerged relatively recently, as a response to the government’s inability to stem rebel violence, and Uribe has made great efforts to dismantle them. The fact that perfect justice has not been achieved (some paramilitary leaders have gotten off lightly) should not obscure the fact that in Colombia today the principal source of violence is the depredations of the FARC, not the paramilitaries or the state.

As for Chávez, his reaction was a guilty one: computers seized by Colombian commandos at the site of the raid allegedly indicate that Chávez has been secretly funding the FARC. If proven, this is much more of an act of war than anything Colombia has done. Meanwhile, under Chávez’s stewardship, Venezuela’s agricultural output has tumbled, requiring it to import large quantities of food from the same Colombia Chávez threatened with war this week, and oil output is declining as Chávez squanders the oil wealth on utopian social schemes, proving again that socialist ideologues should never be trusted with the reins of an economy (see Zimbabwe). Chávez knows that a little saber-rattling helps to distract people from his own incompetence.

Colombia deserves our support in this fight. It is a struggling democracy whose principal problems come from abroad: the raging drug war imposed by the U.S. and the Neanderthal political vision of Hugo Chávez and the FARC, who learned nothing from the fall of communism. Álvaro Uribe has one of the toughest jobs on earth, and he is doing a creditable job.

Sam Reaves

1 comment:

Michael Dymmoch said...


Usually, I'm not interested in sports, but this blog kept me reading. I also appreciate the tie in to the decline in education.