By Constatin Schoehl van Norman
The Colombian government has invited Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez to mediate the FARC conflict in the hope of achieving a “humanitarian accord;” the euphemism for swapping approximately 40 hostages in exchange for an estimated 350 mid-level convicted FARC representatives, mostly captured in violent clashes with the Colombian army. The mutual intentions of the two governments have not always been particularly benign. The diplomatic move coincides with ostensible snubbing of Uribe in the U.S. Congress combined with diplomatic pressure from a newly elected French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The Democratic majority in the Congress, who follow their intuition when blocking free trade deals, have stalled the ratification of the signed free trade agreement with a government presiding over Colombia’s recovering, almost surging economy. It is fair to say that the Democrats deserve credit for pushing the necessary purge of Colombia’s forces, eliminating officers with ties to the right wing paramilitary, but the important human rights “score points” at home might come at a high cost, alienating the closest U.S. ally in the Andean region.
Additional cuts in “Plan Colombia” will reflect in the army’s future capabilities and may shift the military advantages in favor of the FARC. Since the United States is Colombia’s largest trading partner, the stalled ratification might hamper further increase in foreign investment, partially based on the expectations of better market access for Colombian goods. The seduction of protectionism in the Congress is likely to damage a successful example of a market oriented economy which is heavily challenged by a reversion to “21st century socialism.”
In contrast, the Colombian government received support from Canada which has taken a more pragmatic stand on development and is moving towards a separate trade agreement with Colombia. Canadian President, Steven Harper, completed a visit to Canada’s third largest South American export market, lauding Uribe’s measurable successes in improving security and recommending free trade as a tool for sustainable economic development. However, Canada will never be able to replace the United States market.
The failure to reach a Free Trade Agreement has slightly lowered Uribe’s overwhelming popularity, since he has always pushed for the FTA against domestic resistance. The feeling of humiliation emanating from Washington might have influenced the government to recalibrate its regional relations. In this regard, Uribe has recently called on Hugo Chavez to mediate the FARC conflict, brokering a deal to swap prominent hostages like the former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt. Since the FARC insists on the creation of a demilitarized zone, prior to any negotiations, the government has picked up the Venezuelan offer to mediate the negotiations.
The FARC lost considerable influence over the last years after being pushed back deep into the jungle by determined and sometimes harsh military measures and is now in a weakened position. The creation of a demilitarized zone has met with consistent objections from the Colombian government. In the past, the demilitarized zone provided fertile territory for violence for paramilitary and guerilla activity. Some seven years ago, when the FARC took most of the current hostages and controlled an estimated 40 % of the country’s territory, there already was a demilitarized zone. A good number of atrocities from left and right wing paramilitary forces took place in the power vacuum and allowed the recruitment of many fighters. It helped create the largest number of Latin American internally displaced persons. Cuts in “Plan Colombia” and the failure in Washington to ratify the FTA probably was an impetus in convincing the government to request help from a dangerous power broker.
Colombian representatives have frequently accused Venezuela of harboring and supporting FARC terrorists. The Granda affair only seemed to confirm that Venezuela’s connections to the FARC exceed sheer toleration. Rodrigo Granda, a prominent FARC leader, was able to attend a conference in Venezuela, in December 2004, despite being a sought-after criminal in Colombia. After being seized by Colombians on Venezuelan territory has now been released and has left for Cuba. This is mainly due to massive French diplomatic pressure. Sarkozy is now interested in liberating Ingrid Betancourt who holds French/Colombian dual citizenship. Ms. Betancourt, the former Colombian presidential candidate was kidnapped by the FARC because she journeyed into their territory despite warnings from the Colombian authorities not to do so.
Uribe won his first term by advocating a hard-line strategy against the FARC, as opposed to the failed negotiations of his predecessor, Andres Pastrana. If Colombia reenters talks now, it can do so from a position of strength, more so now than at any time before. The negotiations are now supported by the majority of Colombians, within a climate of general “normalization.”
Needless to say, Chavez immediately jumped on this opportunity to mediate between the two sides. What better stage is there for the leader of a Pan-Andean movement than to broker a deal in a neighboring state; at a time when some analysts already saw him past his zenith: the RCTV scandal has finally scarred his image among the human rights activists, mainly in Europe. The Brazilian legislature shows reluctance to ratify Venezuela’s MERCOSUR membership and the announcement by Chavez to institutionalize his persona together with the “Bolivarian revolution” indefinitely, has been met with criticism even inside his own camp. Besides, there is no better opportunity to loosen the close U.S. Colombian alliance than exploiting the current disappointment in Bogotá. Chavez might have some leverage over the FARC and is almost more respected than is appropriate for a mediator between a regular government and a faction, widely recognized as a terrorist organization. “Commandante,” Raúl Reyes, a senior FARC representative hailed Chavez’ initiative and called him a “leader of outstanding importance on the continent.” Reyes commands the “Southern Block” of the FARC operating in the jungle region along the Ecuadorian border. During the same interview with the Mexican newspaper, “La Jornada,” he admitted to knowing the Venezuelan president personally.
Using Chavez as the mediator might come with further diplomatic costs for Colombia, however: Chavez announced that his involvement might also be an opportunity to settle the pending border dispute over the potentially energy rich Gulf of Guajira. It is hard to imagine, in this context, that Colombia would not be forced to make some concessions over the disputed areas.
Chavez’s ties to the FARC might almost be too good; but he undoubtedly has some leverage over the guerillas and is a person they trust. An agreement to resume negotiations with the guerillas represents a 180 degree shift in Colombian policy but they might have their own calculus. If the talks fail, this could be blamed on Chavez, satisfying the general desire for negotiations without giving the blame to Uribe. A favorable deal would benefit the Colombians in substance, since any alleviation of this endemic conflict will benefit the whole country ending the domestic paralyzing situation. At least, the French demands for negotiations would be met. The move might also be a hint to the U.S. Congress, conveying the idea that Colombia is not invariably bound to the U.S. alliance in its foreign affairs nor that its allegiance can be taken for granted. Better relations with Venezuela will also alleviate the antagonism of the majority of left leaning governments in the Andean region.
However, it is a risky move inviting a political rival into the most vulnerable Colombian sphere, as the ongoing conflict has been Colombia’s Achilles heel for decades. Chavez is not just antagonistic to prosperous market oriented capitalism and liberal democracy but towards everything that Uribe stands for, especially his strong alliance with the United States and his backing of Plan Colombia. Chavez has been underestimated on many accounts and tends to be cleverer than competitors and opponents assumed. It is clear to many observers that while Chavez’s short term goal is to elevate his image in the eyes of his countrymen, his overall aim is to strengthen the FARC and to weaken the Uribe government. The mediation might deliver a two-edged result; getting a favorable hostage deal for the government – difficult to reject – but providing the FARC an urgently needed breathing space for rearmament in a demilitarized zone. After all, the Colombian move has been an official invitation to mingle in Colombian affairs and might bear more risks than are now perceived.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
Search The Americas Report
Browse By Topic
- Central American Countries (13)
- Latin American Countries (325)
- Middle East (30)
- Podcast (1)
- #Argentina Salir de la locura – por Carlos Mira August 31, 2018De nada sirve decir “se los dije”. Cuando el agua le llega a uno al cuello, todo ese tipo de “reverberancias” ya no aportan ninguna solución. Pero lo que ocurre es que el gobierno, por sus principales figuras es el que está diciendo: “me lo dijiste”. Haber mentido en el instante de mayor poder de […]
- #Bolivia Socialismo Siglo XXI…OTRO MÁS que toma el camino de la DICTADURA August 24, 2018El 21 de Febrero de 2016 el pueblo de Bolivia dijo NO a la cuarta reelección de Evo Morales en un referendum del que participaron todos los bolivianos. Sin embargo, Morales ahora busca desconocer la voluntad de su gente, volviendo a presentarse como candidato. Una decisión que establece formalmente una dictadura en Bolivia. Para de […]
- #Argentina Queremos flan – por Fernando Iglesias August 22, 2018“Vamos a decir la verdad: a vos se te prendió fuego la casa, afuera hace frío y tenés 12 hijos. Entonces vienen los 12 y te dicen: ¡Queremos flan! ¡Queremos flan, papá! ¡Flaaaaaaannn! Y cuando vos intentás explicarles que unos HdP le prendieron fuego a la casa, ellos te contestan que no es cierto, que […]
- #Nicaragua OEA condena violaciones de DDHH y exige elecciones anticipadas July 19, 2018La OEA condenó este miércoles las violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidos por la policía y paramilitares del régimen, desde que comenzaron a mediados de abril, las protestas pacíficas contra el autócrata Daniel Ortega cuya represión ya lleva 350 muertos y 2.000 heridos, habiendo ausencia de libertad de expresión, y denegación de atención médica a heridos. […]
- #Ecuador ¿Se enfría la economía ecuatoriana? – por Jorge Calderón Salazar July 17, 2018Días atrás culminó la visita del Fondo Monetario Internacional y durante la cual se reunió con varios representantes tanto del sector público como privado, pero más allá de este proceso iniciado meses atrás por el gobierno en aras de tender puentes con este organismo multilateral y mejorar así de a poco su imagen en los […]
- #Nicaragua EL PODER… sin importar la sangre que se tenga que pagar July 2, 2018Daniel Ortega autoriza ingreso de tropas de Cuba y Venezuela a Nicaragua. La mayoría del Parlamento de Nicaragua autorizó este viernes el ingreso de tropas y medios extranjeros entre julio y diciembre de 2018 con fines humanitarios, a pesar de que la oposición lo consideró “imprudente” en medio de la represión contra las protestas antigubernamentales. […]
- #Mexico Elecciones: Inversores aterrorizados mientras izquierda celebra a López Obrador July 2, 2018Nicolás Maduro, Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Gustavo Petro, Rafael Correa y Pablo Iglesias, dirigentes políticos de la izquierda de América Latina y España, han apoyado primero y luego felicitado a Andrés Manuel López Obrador, por su triunfo en las elecciones presidenciales en México con el 53% de los votos. Inversores aterrorizados por las perspectivas […]
- #Colombia Contundente triunfo del sentido común: Iván Duque es el nuevo presidente June 17, 2018Con tan sólo 41 años y excelentes propuestas para el futuro de Colombia, Iván Duque, el candidato del Centro Democrático, se impuso sobre el ex terrorista del M19 Gustavo Petro, en segunda vuelta electoral por 54% a 42%. Duque asumirá el poder hasta el año 2022. Colombia celebra un nuevo triunfo del uribismo sobre el […]
- #Bolivia Evo Morales llega a Rusia: ¿Cumbre con Putin o viaje gratis al mundial? June 14, 2018El canciller boliviano, Fernando Huanacuni Mamani anunció que Evo Morales, presidente del narcoestado boliviano, se ha reunido ayer con Vladimir Putin en Rusia para gestionar USD 1.000 millones en inversiones. Pero la oposición denuncia que este viaje, que costará USD 340.000 en fondos públicos, sirve de excusa para que el gran jefe cocalero no se pierda la […]
- #Venezuela Lech Walesa: “Venezuela está secuestrada por un grupo de neo traficantes y terroristas” June 13, 2018Lech Walesa, líder polaco de la revolución de terciopelo en Europa, sostuvo que Venezuela está secuestrada por “un grupo de neo traficantes y terroristas” y “que más temprano que tarde, deberá ser intervenida por fuerzas de coalición internacional para preservar la paz mundial”. Las declaraciones del expresidente de Polonia fueron reflejadas por Antonio Ledezma en […]
- #Argentina Salir de la locura – por Carlos Mira August 31, 2018
- An error has occurred, which probably means the feed is down. Try again later.