The Boston Globe
March 08, 2008
COLOMBIA'S RECENT raid on a camp of revolutionary guerrillas a mile inside Ecuador has prompted threats of war and blasts of verbal bravado from Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, and his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The tumult over Colombia's killing of 24 fighters with the guerrilla movement FARC, including its spokesman Raul Reyes, is a reminder that history did not end in this hemisphere with the conclusion of the Cold War. If anything, the region's social and political conflicts emerge more clearly now that they are no longer obscured by the superpowers' global struggle.
Still, this regional crisis has provoked reflexes reminiscent of the Cold War. Chávez moved 10 army battalions to the Colombian border, and his defense minister said the mobilization was "not against the people of Colombia, but rather against the expansionist designs of the Empire" - a Chávista way of invoking "yanqui" imperialism.
In a similar vein, the government of Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe, which has received billions of dollars of aid from the Bush administration, ostensibly to fight a war on drugs, accused Chávez and Correa of backing FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in its efforts to seize power in Colombia. The existence of FARC camps in Ecuador and Venezuela has long been an open secret. After the raid last weekend, Colombia claimed to have captured a laptop with indications of $300 million in payments to the FARC from Venezuela.
Some of this money might be construed as ransom for hostages that the FARC released after negotiations mediated by Venezuela. But if the Colombian allegation about the $300 million is true, Chávez has something to answer for - particularly since the FARC has been able to acquire great sums from its share of the Colombian cocaine trade.
The first requirement for resolving this crisis should be to stifle the outmoded Cold War rhetoric on all sides. This restraint could begin in Washington, where President Bush has rashly supported Uribe's right to violate Ecuador's national sovereignty.
The nations of South America have a justifiable sensitivity to any hint of interventionism. The attitude of Brazil's president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, is instructive. No admirer of Chávez, the populist known simply as Lula attributed the Bush administration's support for Uribe to his being an "unconditional puppet" of Washington. Lula also observed, sagely, that "when such things happen it is always difficult to find a solution because nobody wants to go back on what they have done."
Hard as it may be, both sides must go back on what they have done. Uribe has apologized to Ecuador but should also pledge to respect his neighbor's sovereignty. In return, Correa and Chávez should stop sheltering the FARC's drug-dealing, hostage-taking guerrillas.