The Presidents of Venezuela and Colombia, Hugo Chavez and Manuel Santos signed an agreement in April that provided for a three month extension on trade preferences that were set to expire.  This agreement is the result of several months of efforts to rebuild relations between the two countries. Relations have been tense in light of Chavez’s threats to Colombia including his purchase of arms, his protection and association with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)   and also with drug trafficking. Indeed, last year the two countries renewed diplomatic relations. The potential multi-billion dollar trade between the two countries constitutes an important factor in the eyes of the Colombian business community that does not want to see this trade stop.

What is interesting is that the same day the trade preferences agreement was signed there were a number of other agreements that were also signed; one of which included cooperation on fighting drug trafficking and the other for the two leaders to meet periodically.

This agreement has been backed by some action on the ground. Chavez extradited Joaquin Perez to Colombia. Perez is a member of the FARC, a Colombian and Swedish citizen also known as the main representative and propaganda coordinator of the FARC in Europe. Santos reciprocated with a major step: He extradited Walid Makled to Venezuela.  Makled is well known having been accused of drug trafficking, money laundering, homicide, and charges of guilt by association.

Chavez’s action on Perez is surprising because Chavez is known to have had strong contacts with the FARC including giving them sanctuary inside Venezuela and supplying them with weapons. Chavez identifies with them ideologically and has supported them strategically. The last report issued by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London argues among other things that the FARC was asked to serve as a shadow militia for Venezuela’s intelligence apparatus. This is besides other reports that the FARC was considered by Venezuelan authorities a useful tool in the anti-Colombian insurgency.

Santos’s action on Makled is even more surprising given the fact Makled publicly stated that his activities were supported by a substantial number of Venezuelan officials who also benefitted from their association with him with real cash. Makled claimed he worked with top military officers and with members of the Venezuelan government among them  40 generals including the chief of military intelligence, the government oil company PDVSA, the national assembly and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) which is Chavez’s ruling party.

Santos initially pondered whether Makled should be extradited to the United States or to Venezuela. Santos opted to send Makled to Venezuela even though most probably his trial will be a mockery aimed at silencing Makled’s accusations against the Venezuelan government and the military. A former general and chief of the Venezuelan armed forces insinuated that based on some evidence Makled’s accusations may have some merit and therefore a through investigation should be carried out.

Some Reflections

Santos has placed economic calculations above security issues. He handed over Makled to Chavez who will turn the trial into a medieval show of lies in order to protect his government. A Government Accountability Report (GAO) published in 2009 has already shown that Venezuela is clearly a narco-state.  Drug trafficking has historically been a clear threat to the integrity of Colombia. Chavez has sought Colombia’s destruction through an asymmetric war which includes support for the FARC and support for drug traffickers. If President Santos thinks that Chavez has changed in any way he is wrong. Chavez is not a pragmatic man, neither does he care for the well being of his country. He is a fanatic who will pursue his goals until the end. Among these goals is also the elimination of Colombia as we know it. Colombia is a democracy allied with the United States. Venezuela is on the road to totalitarianism and is an ally of any anti-American rogue states. Colombia seeks peace and security for its territory. Venezuela seeks to expand its tyrannical revolution beyond its territory.

Santos is supposedly not a naïve person. After all he is a key architect of the March, 2008 Colombian raid on a FARC camp in Ecuador. However, after having denounced for so long the FARC presence in Venezuela, Santos came out with a statement saying “there are no longer FARC camps in Venezuela”. Of course, nobody really believes such a statement.

Santos needs to be careful not to sell Colombia’s security for “some bread and lentil stew”.

Regarding the U.S., it is not clear why our government did not vehemently demand the extradition of Makled.  This might have a number of reasons. One is what Russell Crandall, a former Principal Director for the Western Hemisphere at the U.S Department of Defense, pointed out in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine: According to Crandall, Santos may be developing a new strategy “that gives less weight to its relationship with Washington” This, Crandall argues, may imply that the U.S is losing influence in the area, despite Colombia being one of the main recipients of U.S military aid.

Another reason for Santos’ attitude could be our government’s diplomatic eagerness to avoid confrontation with Hugo Chavez.  Impressions I gained from listening to presentations made by different State Department officials indicate  that what the U.S seeks is to find common ground with those who are our most fierce enemies. Unfortunately, this type of policy tends to serve the purposes of the rogue state, in this case Venezuela.

As Winston Churchill once pointed out “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”.


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