March 05, 2008
The presidents of Venezuela and Ecuador are revealed as backers of the criminals who fight Colombia's democracy.
LAST SATURDAY, Colombia's armed forces struck a bold blow against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a group specializing in drug trafficking, abductions and massacres of civilians that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe. Ra¿l Reyes, a top commander, and some 20 followers were killed in a bombing of their jungle camp in Ecuador, a mile or two from the Colombian border. The attack was comparable to those the United States has recently carried out against al-Qaeda in lawless areas of Pakistan, and it showed how Colombia's democratic government may be finally gaining the upper hand over the murderous gangs that have tormented the country for decades.
Now this remarkable success has been overshadowed by the extraordinary reaction of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who has been revealed as an explicit supporter and possible financier of the FARC. Mr. Chávez openly mourned the death of Mr. Reyes and made a show of ordering Venezuelan troops to the border with Colombia while loudly warning that war was possible. He goaded his client, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa -- whose initial response to the raid was subdued -- into mimicking his reaction. He then partially closed the border with Colombia, a step that will merely worsen the food shortages that have emptied Venezuelan supermarket shelves.
It turns out that both Mr. Chávezz and Mr. Correa may have had something to hide. Senior Colombian officials say a laptop recovered at the FARC camp contained evidence that Mr. Chávez had recently given the group $300 million and had financial links with the terrorists dating to his own failed coup against a previous Venezuelan government in 1992. Colombia said Mr. Correa's government had been negotiating with Mr. Reyes about replacing Ecuadorean military officers who might object to his use of the country as a base. In other words, both Mr. Correa and Mr. Chávez were backing an armed movement with an established record of terrorism and drug trafficking against the democratically elected government of their neighbor. No wonder Colombian President Alvaro Uribe felt compelled to order the cross-border raid; he knows that his neighbors are providing a haven for the terrorists.
There's little chance that this will lead to conventional war, despite the bluster of Mr. CChávez. The more interesting question is how average citizens in Venezuela and Ecuador will react. The FARC is despised across the region for its criminality and brutality; many Venezuelans have been shocked to learn of Mr. Chávez's alliance with the group. According to Mr. Chávez's former defense minister, Raúl Baduel, the Venezuelan military is troubled by the saber-rattling at Colombia. In his zeal to divert attention from a rapidly worsening domestic economic situation and his defeat in a recent referendum, Mr. Chávez is growing increasingly reckless. The principal danger, however, may be to his own country and government.