the missing paragraph

Heat on the Border – Venezuela vs. Colombia

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Hugo ChavezRecent rocky relations between Venezuela and Colombia don’t seem to offer any substantial outlooks for improvement. It doesn’t mean that the region will suffer an armed conflict, however – as usual – coming to terms with Hugo Chavez is not an easy task. Yet again peacemakers must step in between the agitated counterparts – this time an attempt to dismantle the ticking time bomb will be made by the accustomed mediator in the region, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, aided by Spanish prime minister Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

This is already the third large crisis between the two nations in last five years. Let’s recall then: in January 2005 Colombian agents kidnapped on Venezuelan soil one of the FARC commanders; March 2008 saw Colombian military bombing a FARC camp located in the territory of its western neighbor – Ecuador, where they managed to kill Raul Reyes. Venezuela stood firmly on Ecuador’s side and recalled its ambassador in Bogota. With these events still echoing in the relations of both countries, we are presented with yet another crisis, however this time the situation seems to be a bit more complex.

First sign of the approaching tremors manifested itself in the press release published by the Colombian government on July 27, where they claimed to have recovered Swedish anti-tank rocket launchers AT-4 during a strike on an insurgents’ camp. Serial numbers of those weapons led to conclusions that it had been purchased by Venezuelan army in 1988. Chavez, quite understandably, took it as an accusation of Venezuela’s support for FARC, subsequently ordered his ambassador in Bogota back home and threatened to break not only diplomatic but also trade relations (Venezuelan-Colombian Chamber of Economic Integration, Cavecol, estimates the annual trade between the neighbors to be about $5 billion worth). Chavez claims he would seek to substitute the goods imported from Colombia with those of other countries, however many analysts find it a rather difficult task, as Colombian export covers a third of Venezuelan market’s needs. Answering the insinuations of alleged financing and arming of FARC, Chavez claimed that the rocket launchers were stolen from a naval post some 14 years ago.

The main problem, however, lies elsewhere. During the afore mentioned incident Uribe’s government had already been preparing to close a controversial deal with the US, which grants American military access to Colombian bases (previously Americans were stationed in Manta, Ecuador, but president Correa chose not to prolong the deal that expired on July 17). Many South American countries fear that the treaty will convert Colombia into a bridgehead of American influence on the continent, however both USA and Colombia unanimously sustain that the American contingent’s aim is to support local forces in their battle against drug smugglers and FARC insurgents in the country, and would not interfere in internal matters of its neighbors. Both sides also point out, that in fact there would be no real change, because Americans have maintained a small military contingent in Colombia for many years as part of Plan Colombia (800 soldiers and 600 private defense contractors). Should Chavez stop screaming of converting Colombia into Israel of Latin America and sleep peacefully? Not quite.

The deal was closed on Friday, October 30 and signed by the American ambassador in Bogota and three Colombian ministers. The full text can be found here. The most important part of the deal talks about granting Americans access to seven Colombian military bases (previously there were talks of four). There’s a disconcerting question that comes up straight away: why a relatively small contingent of 1400 people needs as much as seven bases? Naturally it doesn’t mean that the Americans will quietly increase their strength right away, but at the same time declarations of non-expansion seem to be a little far fetched. It’s also important to note, that the deal was not given a “treaty” status, which allowed Uribe’s government to bypass a parliament debate on the subject.

Another matter that can be rather unsettling for Mr. Chavez – but not only to him – is the fact, that many FARC rebels, members of paramilitary groups and drug smugglers chose the border regions of Colombia for their hideouts – a fact perfectly known to the intelligence services of all interested parties. This location has been chosen very consciously – both the FARC and drug smugglers have long come to the conclusion that border areas offer them a number of tactical, if not strategic, advantages, as the Colombian government will have to thoroughly analyze the consequences of any action undertaken against them. Mr. Uribe cannot ignore the possibility of a couple of bombs or missiles flying over to Venezuela and igniting another crisis or, perhaps, an armed conflict – especially when his opponent is someone as hot headed as Mr. Chavez. The latter scenario would mostly convene the FARC and drug smugglers.

Although at the time being no one (except perhaps Mr. Chavez himself, but who knows…)takes the possibility of armed conflict seriously, both countries waste no time and quietly yet consequently arm themselves – Colombians by gaining a powerful ally in Mr. Obama, and Chavez by sending ever so often signals to Moscow (common naval war games, recognition of independence of Southern Ossetia).

Such a conflict would most probably end with Mr. Chavez’s loss, since Colombians dispose of supremely trained army, which – last, but not least – has been conducting military actions against the insurgents for the last 45 years. It is however noteworthy, that Mr. Chavez has recently bought 24 modern Russian fighter planes Su-30 (and is in talks of buying the latest Su-35) and has just placed an order for a 100 Russian tanks. Colombian military has neither.

This, however, is the last resort, that today no one ponders seriously. Even Chavez has other problems on his mind, as he battles shortages of water and electricity that may have a negative impact on his polls. Therefore the most common explanation for him ordering 15.000 troops to the Colombian border, as well as calling his nation to prepare for war, is a simple distraction from other matters. Other theory points out that Mr. Chavez may want to impose a more strict, military control on the areas, that support his political opposition.

Mr. Uribe has just announced, that it would take Venezuela’s war threats to UN Security Council and the OEA (Organization of American States).

This article has been published on MojeOpinie.pl. To retrieve the original Polish version please follow this link.

I recommend that Polish readers get acquainted with this blog.

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Written by Marcin Mieluch

November 10, 2009 at 3:07 pm

One Response

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  1. […] satisfied there, Chavez continues his saber rattling, even with neighboring Columbia. Perhaps its the name. Why else would Venezuela feel the need to […]


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