Arcaya y Asociados
March 04, 2008
After Colombia's cross-border raid into Ecuador on March 1 that resulted in the death of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia's second-incommand, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned March 2 that if Colombia launched any such action on Venezuelan soil, it would be cause for war. Chavez then closed the Venezuelan Embassy in Bogota and ordered 10 battalions to the Venezuelan-Colombian border. The Venezuelan military is no match for Colombia's larger, better-funded and more experienced forces.
Following a March 1 Colombian cross-border raid into Ecuador that resulted in the death of the No. 2 Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commander, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on March 2 warned Bogota against launching any similar operation on Venezuelan soil. The same day, during his weekly radio address, Chavez announced that he would be closing the Venezuelan embassy in Bogota. He added that he had asked his defense minister to send 10 battalions — including tank battalions and military aviation — to the Venezuelan-Colombian border.
Venezuela's armored formations (with tanks that include a smattering of old French AMX and British Scorpion designs) are based on the outskirts of Caracas, but an infantry brigade is based at San Cristobal near an important border crossing, and another at Maracaibo. Some tanks appear to be regularly stationed on the border. Unless this move has been premeditated, it would likely take several days — at the very least — to get an armored unit stationed outside Caracas spun up and on the road toward the border.
This road is the one most capable of sustaining heavy logistical trains from the capital. In fact, except for the northernmost 300 miles, the border is covered by dense rainforest and does not appear to have particularly heavy transportation infrastructure. The roads from Caracas to San Cristobal and Maracaibo appear to be the path of least resistance and thus, logistically speaking, are the paths a military mobilization is likely to take.
Much of this northern sector of the border runs along a mountain ridgeline, so while there is decent road infrastructure to get there, it would literally be an uphill battle for Venezuelan forces to move across the border there, as they would be ceding the high ground to Colombia.
Further north along the coast, a major road crosses flat coastal lowlands above Maracaibo, which offers Venezuelan troops the option of attempting to cut off the majority of the low-lying La Guajira peninsula — though there does not appear to be much of value there. Beyond the La Guajira Department lies the Magdalena Department, which contains Colombia's highest peak, the 18,000-foot Pico Cristobal Colon.
Meanwhile, there is the very serious issue that the Venezuelan military is unpracticed at the fine art of logistics and is not known for its acumen for maintaining vehicles in depot, much less those that are deployed. Stratfor is skeptical of Venezuela's ability to project and sustain forces meaningfully beyond its borders, especially regularly organized units and the tank battalions Chavez has requested.
Colombia's military is larger, better funded and more operationally experienced — each by a factor of 10 — than Venezuela's. U.S. funding and the prosecution of the counternarcotics war have given Colombia one of the most noteworthy military machines in the region. In addition, Bogota's military is well-disposed on its side of the border to counter any offensive move by Caracas. Though Venezuelan forces moving quickly might be able to achieve some short-lived localized superiority, there is little to suggest that they would be capable of consolidating that gain before Colombia's military came down upon them.
Thus, the metrics of a Chavez on the warpath are not thus far holding up to scrutiny. But Stratfor continues to monitor the situation closely. The Venezuelan president has been losing ground domestically of late and no doubt could benefit from stirring up some nationalist sentiment. Meanwhile, Stratfor will be watching the movement of Venezuelan troops to see whether 10 battalions are moved to reinforce the ones already on the border and, if so, how quickly. Should these reinforcements — especially armored battalions from Caracas — arrive in short order, it would suggest that Chavez's announcement was premeditated, rather than an off-the-cuff reaction to the March 1 FARC raid.
And there is always the outlying concern that Chavez's cultivation of relations with FARC was not because he wanted leverage over the organization for solely political purposes, but because he might attempt to use them as a militant proxy.