Once again, tensions are rising between the right-wing, U.S.-allied government of Colombia and the left-wing government in neighboring Venezuela.
At a special meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) on July 23, Colombian representative Luis Alfonso Hoyos echoed outgoing President Alvaro Uribe's earlier accusation that Venezuela was harboring rebel guerrillas belonging to the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army). Hoyos called for international verification of Uribe's claims to be accomplished within 30 days. The U. S. State Department concurred.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez immediately ordered Colombian diplomats to leave Caracas, announced a military alert along Venezuela's 1,400 mile border with Colombia, and warned of possible U.S. military intervention. "Some time ago, Colombia lost its sovereignty. [It was] delivered," he said, "to Yankee imperialism."
Chavez threatened to cut off oil to the United States, should U. S. hostilities mount.
Hoyos presented photos and video and satellite images purported to represent guerrilla encampments. The material, according to the Colombian government, came from seized computers belonging to Raul Reyes, the FARC leader killed in Colombia's U. S. assisted raid on a guerrilla campsite in Ecuador in 2008. The diplomat accused the Venezuelan government of complicity with drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal arms deals and political repression.
Of note is that Reyes' computers are alleged also to have demonstrated additional FARC networks in Brazil and Panama. However, many are dubious of the reliability of the "magic computer" which has been used to claim FARC connections with a large proportion of the Latin American left.
The Venezuelan government and a bevy of international supporters attribute the burgeoning crisis to ongoing provocations mounted against an objectionable socialist government. Already, Colombian paramilitaries have intruded into Venezuela, Colombia has supported Venezuelan separatists, U.S. drones have flown over Venezuela, and assassination schemes against government leaders have been traced to Colombia.
Last year Colombia handed over seven bases to the U. S. military to enhance, according to official documents, U. S. capabilities of monitoring unfriendly states. In response, the Chavez government restricted Venezuelan commercial dealings with Colombia.
Latin American nations have undertaken to resolve the crisis on their own. Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, having expressed "surprise" at the Colombian action within days of Alvaro Uribe's departure as Colombian president, encouraged President Chavez to call for a meeting of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) to deal with the dispute. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, the UNASUR president pro tem, obliged by calling for an "Extraordinary Summit" of UNASUR foreign ministers on July 30.
Crucially the United States looms large within the OAS, but is not one of UNASUR's 12 member states. According to Ecuador's Foreign minister Ricardo Patiño, the OAS lost credibility when General Secretary José Miguel Insulza staged the recent OAS meeting without consulting with individual national leaders beforehand.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro has toured six capital cities to confer with counterparts. President Lula da Silva announced plans to confer with Venezuelan and Colombian leaders on August 6 and 7, respectively. UNASUR executive secretary Nestor Kirchner, formerly president of Argentina, has likewise announced meetings in both capitals.
Venezuelan Communist Party leader Oscar Figuera called for an international campaign to denounce the "lies and verbal aggressions the Colombian government, acting on behalf of U.S. imperialism, has undertaken against the Bolivarian revolution." Jaime Caicedo, secretary general of the Colombian Communist Party, believes the fracas with Venezuela serves the Uribe regime as a distraction from scandals, most recently the common grave site found recently in Macarena containing thousands of bodies which many believe to be the victims of government repression.
In public, President Chavez cited a letter from a U.S. friend warning of U.S. plans to kill him and remove his government. Chavez sees the projected introduction of 7000 marines into Costa Rica as part of a U.S. offensive against Venezuela. And following the OAS meeting, Chavez called upon Colombia guerrillas to give up on armed insurgency, which he views as "the main excuse of the empire to penetrate Colombia deeply and from there attack Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba." The insurgents are unlikely to assume state power, he suggested.
For Alfonso Velasquez of the Colombian CUT trade union confederation, President Uribe's version of national security is flawed: "Just last year, over 2,940 union and social leaders in Colombia were killed due to the inefficiency of the government in relation to security." And besides, according to rebelion.org writer Juan Alberto Sánchez Marín, Colombian borders are so porous that "guerrillas, paramilitaries, and common and not so common criminals" travel easily into Venezuela and four other countries.
Photo: According to BBC News, Colombians are forced to leave border towns or smuggle fuel and other items, shown here from Cucuta, Colombia, because of tensions caused by Colombia's decision to allow the United States to use seven of its military bases. (carlosfpardo/CC)