War in the Andes?

A new war among Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador would be inevitable this year but for the fact that its main promoter, Hugo Chavez, is having problems trying to make himself heard by his army and his people.

Sunday, in his TV show, he dictated orders to his Minister of Defense to send ten battalions (some 5,000 men) tanks and other weapons to the Colombian border. More than 24 hours later there are no signs that this order has been obeyed and one reason is that there might not be more than three battalions ready to march. Worse for Chavez, an alliance of opposition parties and organizations of civil society, including the student movement, has vigorously rejected his call to arms and has labeled him as a “traitor to the country.” 

The events leading to the current crisis between the three countries started last weekend with an attack by the Colombian army on a guerrilla camp. The attack was so successful that the number two man of the FARC, known as Raul Reyes, was killed along with 17 other guerrilla fighters. What complicated the situation was that the camp was clearly within Ecuadorian territory. And it was not just a temporary camp. It was well lived-in, with plenty of domestic animals around, more like a small settlement. The fact that it was located within Ecuadorian territory and that the laptop belonging to Reyes, retrieved by the Colombian arm during the raid, contained documents linking members of the Rafael Correa’s government with the narcoterrorists, clearly suggested that the FARC top leader had been in Ecuadorian territory with Correa’s government knowledge and approval.

When notified by Colombian President Uribe of the raid Correa listened in silence. It was after receiving a call from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that he became extremely agitated and accused Colombia of violating Ecuador’s sovereignty. Technically he was correct, since the raid by the Colombian army had been made inside Ecuadorian territory. But Correa conveniently forgot that international law prohibits countries from harboring terrorists, that Reyes was a murderer and an enemy of the Colombian people and that he had been in Ecuador enjoying the hospitality of the government. Colombia had made it clear to Correa that they knew Reyes was in Ecuador but Correa chose not to reply. In his guilty fury Correa has now expelled Colombia’s ambassador from Ecuador and has sent troops to the Colombian border.

At the same time the real promoter of this military soap opera, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has accused Colombia of murdering “a martyr.” Chavez observed a minute of silence in honor of the “fallen comrades,” closed down the Venezuelan embassy in Bogot??¡ and ordered Venezuelan troops to the Colombian border, all of this during his TV Sunday program, clearly improvising as he went. He spoke openly and insistently of war with Colombia.

Hours later Cristina Kirchner, Argentina’s president, sided with Chavez. This came as no surprise, since she and her husband have been receiving money from Chavez for some time now. Even moderate Chilean President Bachelet said that “Colombia had a lot of explaining to do,” willfully ignoring that the FARC is a terrorist group that has murdered, kidnapped and tortured thousands of Colombian and other Latin American civilians.

Even French President Sarkozy lamented the death of Reyes, the man “they had been talking with in connection with the possible release of Ingrid Betancourt” (the most famous of FARC’s hostages). But somehow all of these political leaders were missing the basic point. Colombian democracy has been at war against this narcorterrorist organization for more than 40 years.

The guerrillas are now the main drug dealers in the world and have kidnapped dozens of Colombian, Ecuadorian and U.S. citizens. How can these political leaders talk of national sovereignty and border violations in abstract when they, specifically Correa and Chavez, are actively supporting and harboring the guerrillas? The documents found in Reyes’ laptop show that Chavez has been aiding the guerrillas with weapons and has provided them with some $300 million and also show that Correa has been in close contact with them for some time. These two presidents claim a technicality in order to support the criminals and, of course, in order to attack the presence of the United States in the region, their true and ultimate objective.

Chavez’s call to war against Colombia will not prosper because he does not have the support of his own people and lacks sufficient control over the army. But this serious incident shows that much of the political leadership of Latin America is made up of invertebrates, sitting on the fence. We will probably witness during the coming days a show at the OAS or, even, at the United Nations, where some Latin American leaders will use much time to attack Colombian democracy, while in fact siding with the Colombian terrorist guerrillas, all in the name of national sovereignty.

War, if it finally appears in the northern Andes, will not be a war among countries. It will be more like a civil war waged across political boundaries, pitting those who hate democracy against those who defend it, a war between the armies of authoritarianism and hate and the lovers of freedom and civilization. The orders of battle are already pretty well drawn.