Winds of war in South America: Communique on the tensions between Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela

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Through the following communiqué, Internacionalismo - ICC's section in Venezuela, analyzes the events in South America, following the appearance of Colombian troops in Ecuadorian territory.

The events

In the early hours of Saturday 2nd March the Colombian army bombs a FARC camp located in Ecuadorian territory, a few kilometers from the Colombian border. The objective of the mission is to eliminate the guerrilla leader nicknamed Raúl Reyes, an important member of FARC's secretariat, who dies along with 16 guerrilla fighters. The president of Colombia (Álvaro Uribe), who followed the whole operation throughout the night, alerted the president of Ecuador (Rafael Correo) of the action, who reacted in a moderate manner after listening to the explanations of the Colombian president.

On Sunday, Correa has a change of mood and decides to expel Colombia's ambassador from Ecuador, ordering a strengthening of the military presence on the border with Colombia. On Monday, Ecuador decides to break diplomatic relations with Colombia, accusing president Uribe of being a "bellicose", after the director of Colombia's police declared that documents gotten through the computers of the guerrilla fighters showed that there were links between FARC and the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela[1].

On Sunday 3rd March, Chavez, in his television show called "Aló, Presidente", after accusing Uribe of being a "gangster and an imperialist lackey", and threatening to send a Russian jet-bomber Sukho if the Colombian president decided to carry out a similar action on Venezuelan territory, orders the retirement of the personnel in the embassy of Bogotá and the mobilization of 10 military battalions towards the border with Colombia. On Monday, the Venezuelan chancellor declares the expulsion of the ambassador of Colombia; also on that same day (even if not made official), the Venezuelan government orders the closing of the border with Colombia[2].

As expected, this situation has created tension in the region and concern within the population, mainly on the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

Chavez heightens tensions

The reaction of Venezuela's government has been disproportionate, for Colombia hasn't carried out any kind of military action on Venezuelan territory. The commentators point out that Venezuela's reaction has been greater than Ecuador, the "invaded" country.

It is speculated that Chavez, after the first moderate reaction of Correa (who shares the Chavist project of the "Bolivarian revolution"), pressured the Ecuadorian president to break relations with Colombia and demonstrate a united front against Uribe's aggressions.

This exaggerated reaction of Venezuela is not at all surprising. The leftist government of Chavez has developed a political strategy to position itself as a regional power, based on the power given by its oil, and with it, it exploits a deepening anti-Americanism in order to make use of the social and political problems of the countries in the region and the geopolitical difficulties of USA in the world. This position has led Venezuela to support politically and financially leftist groups and parties in the region, some of them that are already in power, as with the case of Evo Morales in Bolivia or Correa in Ecuador. Chavez's reaction and his pressure on Ecuador are no surprise, since Colombia's operation has revealed the support both countries give to the Colombian guerrillas, permitting the setting up of camps on their territories to evade the Colombian military. The decision of Venezuela's government to mobilize troops towards the border with Colombia was a response to the real possibility of the Colombian army attacking guerrilla camps in Venezuelan territory.

Chavez has had continuous political and diplomatic clashes with Colombia, which has been transformed into the USA's most important military base in the region, with the excuse of attacking the guerrilla and drug-trafficking, through Plan Colombia - which began in 2000.

As a way of trying to destabilize the Colombian government, Chavez has given increasingly open support to guerrilla organizations (FARC and ELN); he also gives political (and maybe financial) support to the Polo Democrático Alternativo (Democratic Alternative Pole), a Colombian leftist party that defends the Bolivarian project against the Uribist party in power.

The Chavez-Uribe confrontation has maintained itself more or less in an unstable equilibrium until November of the last year, when Chavez was considered as possible mediator for the "humanitarian exchange" of various hostages in the hands of FARC[3], for militants of that same organization. We should not forget that the inexplicable decision of the Colombian government of placing Chavez as a mediator for the exchange of hostages for FARC militants may be part of a strategy of the Colombian bourgeoisie and USA to know better the maneuverings of FARC and weakening it geo-politically, in the way that is happening right now.

It is a fact that the guerrillas have weakened due to Uribe's determined actions[4], a situation that explains the insistence of Chavez defending it as a fighting force, which would open the doors to its transformation into a political party. Colombia's recent action in Ecuador could form part of the necessity of blocking this last option and aborting the unilateral handing-out of hostages to Chavez, and to make public the links of the Venezuelan government and FARC. The Colombian government, making use of their intelligence (supported by highly advanced American military technology), has denounced many times the existence of guerrilla camps in Colombia's neighboring countries, particularly in Venezuela and Ecuador. In fact, some months ago, president Uribe had already denounced that the guerrilla leader Raúl Reyes was hiding in Ecuadorian territory. It seems like Colombia's government was just waiting for the right moment to eliminate him[5].

The US and the Colombian bourgeoisie know about the weakening of Chavez at the internal level, which was reflected by the defeat of the referendum in December 2nd of last year, the intention of which was to make re-election indefinite. The masses that put their hopes in him are becoming disillusioned. This is why Chavez's government is trying relentlessly to lead the population in an aggressive campaign against the exterior enemy (the US and now Colombia), as a way to turn the masses' attention away from their real everyday problems (lack of basic goods, crime, unemployment, etc).

USA's geopolitical strategy has been to leave Chavismo to debilitate by itself progressively, that is why the American government has avoided falling into continuous provocations; a situation that has lead Chavez to align his nationalist, rhetorical artillery against Uribe. The US and the "more conscious" bourgeoisies of the region know that the high oil profits will not be enough to sustain the voracity of the Bolivarian bourgeoisie (called the "Bolibourgeoisie"), which needs copious amounts of resources for their licit and illicit businesses (a product of the high level of corruption that reigns in the Bolivarian lines); at the same time, sustaining an anti-American geo-politics (which in the Cold War was financed by the USSR) costs many thousands of dollars. By the same token, maintaining the populist politics needs large amounts of spending - a reason for why these politics have weakened since 2006 (something that the most impoverished sectors are really feeling).

Due to the social unease[6], the confrontation against Colombia and the bellicose mobilizations have not had the support of Venezuela's population. The calls of Chavez, of the National Assembly and the high bureaucrats of Chavismo for the mobilization of the population towards the border, have been met with indifference, opposition to war or the thought that both governments should find a better way to solve their conflicts. The government has received the support of the recent-lumpen ex-bureaucrat Lina Ron, who has put her 2,000 supporters at the service of the "commander"!!; these form part of the paid henchmen that the chavismo uses to repress its opposition, and the masses or workers who protest or fight for their conditions. On the other hand, while the Colombian bourgeoisie has formed a united front at the side of Uribe; in the case of Venezuela, the sectors of the opposing bourgeosie and its parties have formed columns against Chavez.

There is another factor no less important that works against the bellicose tendencies of chavismo: the division in the armed forces - a reflection of the division that the different factions of the bourgeoisie have inculcated at the level of the civilian population. While it is not expressed in an open manner, it is evident that there are military sectors that are in disagreement with the relations the government has with the guerrillas: the latter have attacked the Venezuelan military forces on many occasions, leaving many military and civil deaths. According to the declarations of the recent minister of defense Raúl Baduel, who since last year has flipped-flopped to the Opposition, and who has an ascendancy in the armed forces, the government doesn't have the support of the middle ranks - the ones who are in charge of the troops.

The dynamic of decomposition

Even though various countries[7] and even the OAS itself try to lower the tensions in the region, it is evident that it is convenient for Venezuela to prolong the crisis. In this sense, the pressure on Ecuador will continue: at the moment that this communiqué is being written, President Correa finishes a visit in Caracas, a moment that him and Chavez used to light-up the flames of the conflict. After that, Correa goes to Nicaragua, a moment that president Daniel Ortega used to break diplomatic relations with Colombia.

It is possible that the conflict would not transcend the mediated scare-mongering of both sides. However, there exists a context of decomposition that makes it impossible to predict what can happen:

  • The US, through Plan Colombia, has introduced factors of instability in the region that are irreversible: Colombia has been militarily equipped and has a highly trained armed force, which according the specialists, is about four times bigger than the ones of Venezuela and Ecuador together; supported by the most advanced war technology. A situation that creates a military imbalance in the region.
  • With Uribe's decision of denouncing Chavez before the International Criminal Court for the financing of terrorist groups, it is possible that Colombia would use the recent events to support itself and continue denouncing and lowering the prestige of Chavez at the international level; for example, making public the support of the Venezuelan government for FARC and putting forward proof of guerrilla camps located in Venezuelan territory.
  • The Chavistas, in their "forward-retreat", could use whatever means to justify a military confrontation with Colombia. In one of his recent declarations, Chavez threatened many Colombian enterprises with nationalisation.


March 2008.


NOTE: On Friday 7th March, at the same time of the reunion of leaders of various countries in Latin America in Dominican Republic, Uribe, Chavez, Correa, and Ortega ended hugging each other; which supposedly puts an end to the conflict. We all know that politicians are used to hugging each other while hiding a dagger for their adversaries. From our point of view, Uribe left really clear his plans against his adversaries, who did not have other option left except hugging him. It's possible that the tensions will lower themselves momentarily, but the confrontational situation is still present. Chavez needs his external enemy; in his support, Ecuador has decided not to restart, for now, diplomatic relations with Colombia.

[1] Some of the evidence found concerned the transference of $300 million and armaments from Venezuela to FARC. The evidence also pointed out that FARC gave $50,000 to Chavez in 1992 when the latter was in prison after his failed coup d'etat.

[2] Colombia is Venezuela's second most important commercial partner, just after the US. Through the border with Colombia comes 30% of the country's imports, and within them an important percentage of foodstuffs. Closing the border would heighten the scarcity of foodstuffs in the country, which has become deeper since the end of 2007. This fact is an expression of the irrationality and "forward-retreat" of Chavismo.

[3] The whole deal with the "humanitarian exchange" has been followed by a stream of hypocrisies from different factions of the bourgeoisie, because all of them try to make use of the situation (particularly Chavez and FARC) for their own self-service; many countries have formed part of this "humanitarian" party (like France). All of them don't really care about the lives of the hostages. We should also mention that many of the hostages form part of bourgeois institutions (parliament, political parties, etc.). We should denounce in a firm manner the exploitation of the masses' sentimentalism in favor of the bourgeoisie's geopolitical interests.

[4] FARC's numbers have diminished from 17,000 to 11,000 since Uribe became president in 2002. Close to 7,000 guerrilla fighters have died, and more than 46,000 elements from FARC, Army of National Liberation (ELN) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have become demobilized. Source: El Nacional, 3-9-08

[5] According to the most recent news, the exact location of the guerrilla leader Raúl Reyes was obtained after he received a call from Chavez on his satellite phone.

[6] The protests of the population are becoming more frequent. In some cities there have been riots due to the scarcity of food. The protests against murders are more frequent. Since last year, workers have mobilized for better social conditions and wages: workers in sectors like oil, metal, tyre manufacturing, health, etc.

[7] One of the countries that can play an important role is Brazil, since Lula is the "friend" of all countries in conflict, particularly of Chavez. France, which has been seen meddling around because of the hostage Betancourt, has had an ambiguous position that has deserved critiques: first it lamented the incident due to the role that Reyes played in the mediation for the liberation of hostages, expressing a confusing attitude concerning FARC; afterwards, it found necessary to explain that its relation with Reyes only existed until the middle of last year. In recent declarations it "threatened" FARC to label them as terrorists if Ingrid Betancourt is hurt.