People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 32

August 08, 2010


Outgoing Colombian President Plays Spoiler


Yohannan Chemarapally



JUST as Venezuela and Colombia were seemingly on the verge of normalising relations but forces inimical to peace and amity among Latin American countries, are still trying their best to provoke conflict. In mid-July, the outgoing Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, once again repeated his claims that the Venezuelan government was harbouring 1500 fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). It was claimed that there were 85 guerrilla camps inside Venezuela. These allegations were bandied as the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, was preparing to visit Bogotá to attend the swearing in ceremony of the newly elected president, Juan Manuel Santos in early August. Chavez described the allegations as a “hoax”.


Venezuela has earlier recalled its ambassador from Bogotá after Uribe ordered the raid into Ecuador, allegedly in pursuit of FARC guerrillas. Last year, Venezuela had snapped many of its trade and economic links to lodge its strong protest against the Uribe government’s decision to substantially increase the number of US military bases in the country. Venezuela had strengthened its troop strength along the 2,200 km border with Colombia after a series of provocations from the Colombian side. After the latest allegations about the guerrilla bases inside Venezuela, the government has despatched additional troops to the border.


Chavez has been saying for some time that the US is planning to launch a war against Venezuela. In a recent statement, he said that Venezuela would cut off oil supplies to the US, should a military attack come from Colombia. “If there was any armed aggression against Venezuela from Colombia or elsewhere, promoted by the Yankee Empire, we would suspend oil shipments to the US, even if we have to eat stones”, he said. After Uribe presented his evidence to the Organisation of American States (OAS) in mid July, Chavez announced the complete snapping of diplomatic links with Colombia.  The Obama administration, not surprisingly, was fully supportive of Uribe. The US assistant secretary of state for Latin America, Arturo Valenzuela, stated that the Colombian complaint to the OAS was “very serious”.





The purported evidence was evidently taken from a laptop captured during the raid inside Ecuador on March, 2008. The laptop allegedly belonged to a leading FARC commander, Raul Reyes, who was killed in the raid more than two years ago. Interpol had stated at the time that proper forensic had not been used in handling the seized computer. Interpol also said that the contents of the computer were tampered with and were changed between its seizure on March 1 and March 3, the date on which its contents were made public. The Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS, Roy Chalderton said that there was not a single shred of evidence in the new evidence provided by Colombia. He added that the Venezuelan army inspected the locations and coordinates provided by the Colombian side and found no evidence of the alleged terrorist sites.


The region was hoping that relations between the two countries would be normalised with a new president at the helm of affairs in Bogotá. But Uribe seems to be intent on nipping such aspiration in the bud. Uribe, who had wanted to run a third time for the highest office but was denied the opportunity by the country’s constitutional court, has clearly indicated that he does not want his successor to begin with a clean slate. Santos, who also had a long stint as Colombia’s defence minister had indicated after his resounding victory at the polls that he wanted relations with Caracas to be repaired. He personally invited Chavez to be present at his inauguration. The person he designated for the foreign minister’s post was the former Colombian envoy to Caracas, Maria Angela Holguin. She had objected to Uribe giving plum diplomatic posts to his political protégés. Holguin had said that normalising relations between the two countries would be her priority.


Uribe was also not happy with the appointment of another of his critics, Camilo Restrepo as agriculture minister. President Lula da Silva of Brazil observed that the timing of Uribe’s decision was “strange” as it occurred only a few days before the new president took office. Venezuelans are also due to vote for a new national assembly in September this year. It has been observed that before every important election in Venezuela there have been concerted efforts from the enemies of the Bolivarian revolution to whip up controversies. Chavez has already faced the electorate thirteen times since he got elected for the first time in 1998. During every election or plebiscite, Washington has tried to stir the political pot. In March this year, the head of the US southern command, general Douglas Fraser had testified to the US Congress that Venezuela did not have any verifiable links with terrorists. The US has classified the FARC and the ELN as terrorist groupings. Under pressure from the US state department, he was forced to backtrack on his statement.


The new president elect of Colombia, Santos as defence minister had epitomised the hard line policy of Uribe against the left wing guerrillas. But he seems to have realised that there could not be a military solution to the problem that has plagued the country for around five decades.  Uribe, instead of adopting a statesman like stance befitting a lame duck president, chose to criticise his successor for trying to practice “cosmetic” and “hypocritical” diplomacy. His open criticism was followed by the release of the tapes showing senior FARC commanders in a camp allegedly 23 km inside Venezuelan territory. After the release of the tapes, the current defence minister, Gabriel Silva, clearly articulated the views of his political master---Uribe. He said that the concerns about the guerrillas being given protection “could be forgotten in the climate of rapprochement with Venezuela’s government”.


Only Washington was quick to support the assertions of Uribe. This is not surprising, as Uribe has been its most obedient ally in the region. His government was the recipient of $6 billion in aid from the US. However, Uribe did not get the support of other right wing governments in Latin America. Left wing leaders like Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, were scathing in their criticism of Uribe. He described Uribe as “a loyal representative of the US government, with its military bases in Colombia designed to provoke a war between Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua”.





President Chavez was careful in his response to the new accusations saying that they were a result of the “power struggle between Uribe and the new group around Santos”.  At the same time, he cautioned his countrymen and the region that there was a real threat of an US led attack. There are seven US bases in Colombia, Aruba and Curacao, just a few miles from the Venezuelan border. There are US bases in nearby Honduras and El Salvador. Recently the right wing government in Costa Rica gave permission for 46 US warships and 7000 US marines to enter its territory. In the military bases agreement signed last year between the US and Colombia, the Palanquero base was to be used for “full spectrum operations” in South America and to combat the threat from anti-American governments in the region.


The Venezuelan government is not denying that there have been incursions by the guerrillas into their territory fleeing from the Colombian army and paramilitaries. The OAS secretary general, Jose Miguel Insulza, told CNN “that the guerrillas come and go, and it is quite difficult to ask just ask one country to control the border----Uribe says he doesn’t know why Venezuela doesn’t detain the guerrillas, but the truth is that Colombia can’t control them either”.  Venezuela has on previous occasions extradited guerrillas back to Colombia.  Many of the right wing paramilitaries have also infiltrated across the border where they are engaged in the profitable drug trade. They have also been implicated in plots to assassinate the Venezuelan president and the government. Declassified Pentagon documents have revealed that the US administration was well aware of their presence in Venezuela in 2003 but chose to focus on the presence of left wing rebels who keep on criss-crossing the porous and thinly populated border between the two countries. Many commentators have also pointed out that though the US has a well fortified border with Mexico, this has not prevented the infiltration of arms and drug smugglers.


The Latin American countries want their regional bloc, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) to solve the problem between Colombia and Venezuela. The OAS, given the fact that the US along with Canada are members, is not trusted by many Latin American countries. The Unasur leaders have already talked to the parties involved. Unasur’s secretary general, Nestor Kirchner, the former Argentine president has met with Colombia’s president elect, Santos. The incoming president seems to have conveyed that his priority is to repair relations with Venezuela. The breakdown in relations has already had a severe impact on Colombia’s economy. Venezuela is the biggest market for the Colombian products. Venezuela too is dependent on its neighbour for food supplies and electricity. It is a win-win situation for both countries if they co-exist peacefully but political differences are bound to remain as the leadership of the two countries pursue diametrically opposite ideologies.