Bolivar's Dream Lost: Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guerrillas, and Files

A month ago, Colombia's incursion into Ecuador's territory set off events that still are unraveling. All of Latin America immediately condemned the trespassing as a violation of Ecuadorian sovereignty. For the most part, this had nothing to do with the excuse given by Colombia (that it was chasing rebels-- an excuse deemed inadequate by almost every nation in the hemisphere, the U.S. as a notable exception). Rather, this had to do with stemming any further violations of territorial sovereignty in the region by reasserting the strength of the international legal framework. Had they not come down as strongly as they did, Latin American countries would seem to have courted future military incursions and interventions. Colombia recognized the importance of de-escalating the situation, which is why it didn't bother sending troops to the border even as Ecuador and Venezuela did.

With the 19th century exceptions of the War(s) of the Pacific between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia (wherein Chile gained territory from the latter two) and the War of the Triple Alliance between Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay (where Paraguay lost territory and 90% of its male population to the latter three), Latin America has had little interstate warfare (particularly compared to, say, Europe). It has had its share of conquest, violence, and systematic extermination of indigenous populations. Nevertheless, in spite of a slew of bureaucratic authoritarian governments (i.e. military dictatorships), it's not the most militarized part of the planet.

This makes the rising international tensions in South America all the more noteworthy. To say that Hugo Chavez is a polarizing figure in Latin America is to state the obvious. He's popular for two reasons: his redistribution of oil wealth to broader segments of the population (i.e. not just the elite); his anti-imperialist rhetoric against the U.S. Because U.S. actions in the region since the Mexican-American War have been seen as self-interested and imperialist, the fact that he doesn't kowtow to the U.S. reflects broad public opinion among a wide swath of classes. On the other hand, his inflammatory oratory style and his meddling in his neighbors' business do not endear him to many.

And now there's news that Chavez has done more than give his opinion on what his neighbors should do. The computer found during Colombia's raid has yielded a bounty of material that seems to implicate both Chavez and his Ecuadorian counterpart, Rafael Correa, in supporting the FARC, the supposedly marxist insurgency fighting a war to liberate Colombia but instead an armed group better known for kidnapping, drug trafficking, and making the lives of ordinary Colombians dangerous. If, as is claimed by Colombian investigators, money and weapons have been exchanged between the FARC and Chavez/Correa, I don't see how conflict can be avoided. Alvaro Uribe is a popular president and Colombians are fed up with the decades of violence.

I don't think the U.S. government thinks it is politically expedient to directly remove Chavez, Pat Buchanan's urging of a CIA hit notwithstanding, given the tattered reputation the U.S. enjoys in Latin America. And it has long been my sense that for Chavez to be removed from office, it would be at the hands of his neighbors, tired of his meddling, the weight that he throws around because of the oil wealth, and threatened by his expansionist aspriations of uniting South America in a Bolivarian dream.

We'll see what happens with the laptop as Interpol investigates.

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