May 22, 2008
Interpol's technical report is crystal clear: Colombia did not alter the computers salvaged from the rubble of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) camp in Ecuador on March 1. Evaluating the substantive content of the 10,000 files is another matter altogether. That's for politics to sort out.
''Those responsible for what has happened -- the tragedies, the indignities, the kidnappings and the deaths -- are the FARC. What all governments should do is join together in the fight against violence and terrorism,'' noted Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
I'd say easier said than done except no Latin American president has ever uttered such unequivocal words in public. While thousands of citizens across the region joined the worldwide anti-FARC marches on Feb. 4, only in Peru did the government sanction the protests. President Alan García received the Colombian ambassador as marchers passed the presidential palace.
President Alvaro Uribe's government must now decide what to do with the information in the FARC computers. Most of it is damning of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and, to a lesser extent, of Ecuador's Rafael Correa. Most of it is, no doubt, true. Still, it would be a mistake to pursue a judicial track. No court in the world is going to settle the Andean conflict. That's for politics to sort out and, unfortunately, conditions are far from ripe. Uribe should heed the May 19 editorial in Bogota's El Tiempo: ``Hot potato, cool head.''
Uribe's policy a success
To start, the FARC are down but definitely not out. On balance, Uribe's policy of democratic security has been a success. The Colombian military has reclaimed authority over vast stretches of territory. FARC ranks are thinning: For example, the death of second-in-command Raúl Reyes in a March 1 raid and the May 18 surrender of Nelly Avila Moreno, the most senior female commander.
The FARC, nonetheless, are reaping a bounty of political support in Latin America. The populist Left rallies around FARC as if they didn't thrive on narcotrafficking, kidnapping and perpetrating human-rights violations against civilians. Led by El Tiempo, nine Latin American newspapers have documented the FARC's long outreach in the region. So-called civil society organizations are helping them with military recruitment, money laundering and ideological support.
The United States should refrain from branding Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism even if that's exactly what Chávez has been doing. Again, politics matter, and Latin America is not about to join Colombia, the European Union, Canada and the United States in designating FARC a terrorist organization.
We could yet look back on the March 1 raid -- in effect, a violation of Ecuadorean sovereignty -- as a blessing in disguise. The 10,000 files of information, Ecuador's rupture with Colombia, Chávez's histrionic mobilization of troops could be a wake-up call for Latin America.
Region must engage
Saying that the United States should stay at arm's length isn't enough. Sooner or later, Latin America will have to step up to the plate. A robust regional diplomacy is in order. If a comprehensive conflict-resolution effort akin to Central America's in the 1980s is not in the offing, why not start piecemeal by helping Colombia and Ecuador mend relations?
Domestic affairs in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela weigh heavily in the widening FARC conflict.
• Uribe's decisive leadership has earned him sky-high approval ratings. Still, the parapolítica scandals -- a noxious web between mostly pro-Uribe politicians and the paramilitaries -- is too close for comfort. Talk of a third term, which would require another constitutional amendment, doesn't bode well for Colombian democracy.
• At 62 percent, Correa's approval ratings are less spectacular but still solid. He has said he's not seeking indefinite reelection. Like Chávez, he is bent on enacting a constitution that undermines liberal democracy. Correa, however, is riding high on Colombia's March 1 raid.
• Chávez's popularity has taken a serious dive. Losing last year's referendum threw him off kilter. His own ranks are divided, and the opposition is energized. Local and regional elections in November could well bring him more bad news. Is he dangerous like a wounded lion?
All in all, time and politics will tell.
Marifeli Pérez-Stable is vice president for democratic governance at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C., and a professor at Florida International University.