March 03, 2008
South Florida Ecuadoreans, Venezuelans and Colombians looked fearfully toward their homelands Monday after a Colombian military raid into Ecuador that killed a top Colombian guerrilla commander sparked a regional crisis with Venezuela.
Colombia alleges Venezuela and Ecuador -- both countries aligned with Cuba's communist government -- were violating international agreements not to harbor terrorists. Meanwhile, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said Colombia, which has strong support from the Bush administration, had illegally crossed its border.
''We are partner countries, and in the 21st century we should not be contemplating conflict between us,'' said Pembroke Pines resident Raul Villavicencio, 50, past president of the Miami Ecuadorean-American Chamber of Commerce.
As in their South American countries, anger, frustrations and accusations flew about a situation that escalated to the threat of international conflict in a matter of hours.
''I feel [Ecuador] President [Rafael] Correa is totally justified in showing his anger, because any time a military crosses over into another country like that, it is considered an act of war,'' said Ecuadorean Marco Molina, 56, who lives in West Palm Beach. ``Colombia, instead of attacking the hostile bases directly inside its own borders is instead pushing the conflict into neighboring countries.''
Many Colombians saw the situation in a different light.
''I don't think it's right to cross into another country like that, but if the country where these people are getting refuge isn't doing anything about it, then I say go for it,'' said Colombian Fabio Andrade, who lives in Weston. ``Colombia has the right to defend itself and go after the people who have tried to destroy democracy in our country.'
President Hugo Chávez's entry into the international fray drew criticism from local Venezuelans, many of whom said he had other motives for his actions.
''I worry that he is using the idea of war to distract from the problems inside Venezuela,'' said Venezuelan activist Patricia Andrade, who lives in Miami-Dade. 'He may try to use patriotism to solve his political crisis. He can say, `We're at war' and then crack down on the Venezuelan public, which is tired of him.'' Miami Herald staff writer Tere Figueras Negrete contributed to this report.