Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Correa and Chávez toe-to-toe with Úribe

To read most media accounts of the tensions building between Venezuela/Ecuador and Colombia, one would think that Correa and Chávez are vastly overreacting to a perfectly legitimate Colombian strike against an established terrorist organization (the FARC). Most media outlets are providing minimal background information on the unfolding events, and couching their articles in the standard line on Chávez – that Hugo is a bombastic socialist quasi-dictator out to overthrow America, this time through supporting leftist rebels in Colombia. Yet, while mobilizing the troops and sending 10 tank battalions to the Colombian border might be a bit over the top (Chávez is nothing if not emphatic in making a point), this is not a sudden, wholly unexpected event. In fact, tensions between Colombia and Venezuela have been building since November.

The reason for these tensions is not, as the media would suggest, because of Chávez’s support of the FARC, but rather it is due to the collapse of a hostage negotiation, largely the result of unbending militancy on the part of Úribe. A thorough report of the hostage issue and its current effects (from a main-stream media source) can be found here. The basic gist of things is that Úribe asked Chávez to help negotiate a hostage release by FARC. As the deal was almost closed (this past November), Úribe then removed Chávez from his role as mediator and, now that he had located the rebels, proceeded to mobilize forces in the region for an apparent military strike… which understandably drove the FARC contingent into hiding and jeopardized the hostage deal. While FARC did release some hostages in January and February (thanks in part to President Chávez), Venezuela was understandably irked by Colombia’s fickleness during the negotiations. Coupled with their ideological differences and what Correa and Chávez both view as Colombia’s tendency to act as an American “puppet state” in the region, the mobilization may be a bit extreme, but it is at least somewhat understandable.

As a general note, I would suggest the Center for Economic and Policy Research as a good news source for the alternate view on Venezuela (and left-leaning governments in Latin America more generally). This report on the Venezuelan economy is particularly interesting.