Inadmissible Reactions, Editorial in yesterday’s El Tiempo

March 3, 2008

It is always good to look at what they are saying on the other side of the confrontation, here is yesterday’s Editorial in Bogota’s El Tiempo:

Inadmissible Reactions, Editorial in yesterday’s El Tiempo

While in Colombia, in a funeral ceremony presided by President Alvaro Uribe, in the north Canton of Bogota, national honors were rendered on soldier Carlos Hernandez Leon, who died in the battle which killed Raul Reyes, in Venezuela, Chavez decreed a minute of silence in honor of a “consequent revolutionary”, victim of a “cowardly assassination” by the Colombian Government.

One has to be quite nutty to ignore in such a way the sensibility of the Colombian people, to so crudely ignore the sensibility of millions of Colombians who less than a month ago in the most massive mobilization in the history of the country, went into the streets to shout their repudiation to everything that Raul Reyes represents. The reaction by the Venezuelan President reveals also that his relationship with the leaders of the FARC is deeper and more sentimental that what we had feared. And that his influence over President Rafael Correa of Ecuador is much stronger than ever imagined.

Unheard of and paradoxical then that a fact received by millions of Colombians as somewhat legitimate-and without precedent-that the State gets a victory in the long confrontation with the FARC, generates at the same time a diplomatic clash with Ecuador and has taken Chavez to escalate his confrontation with Colombia and with President Uribe to levels without precedent.

Who would have said that the death in a military operation in the tough conditions of this irregular war, of the second in command of an armed organization responsible for the sorrow of hundred of thousands of people could be qualified by Chavez as a “cowardly assassination”�

It is a lack of connection with the realities and feelings that prevail in Colombia, very similar to that of the magazine Anncol, the news agency of the FARC, that entitled the death of Reyes as:”Uribe assassinates another union member”. But, beyond the eloquent demonstrations of proximity and sympathy, this weekend delicate tensions appeared between the two neighboring countries, that need to be managed with agility and intelligence.

Besides discharging Uribe with unheard of epithets, Chavez has ordered the militarization of the border with ten battalions and tanks and has closed the embassy in Bogota. He declared that what happened was a violation of the Ecuadorian sovereignty, saying that Colombia, with the backing of the US, is turning itself into the “Israel of America”and threatened with a war if a similar incursion took place in Venezuelan territory.

And President Rafael Correa of Ecuador-who initially had reacted more calmly, after Uribe’s call on Saturday morning, in which he explained the events-called his ambassador for consultations, send a note of protest because he considered the operation against Reyes and act of aggression and a violation of the Sovereignty of Ecuador and suspended his prior visit to Cuba to take care of the emergency. He said that he would go to the end to clarify the episode about which, his Colombian colleague is “badly informed or is shamelessly lying about”

Even if it is not easy, the first thing that needs to be done is to separate both crises. It is symptomatic of the change of attitude of President Correa that after his conversation with Chavez, which as was stated by an international analyst made him look like a “puppy of the …Venezuelan Empire”. Despite this, the Colombian Government has to make all of the efforts to clarify its position with the Ecuadorian Government and normalize relations. In Quito, they also have to consider the iron dilemma faced by the Colombian authorities when they were facing the opportunity of landing a decisive blow to a guerrilla movement that has been using the border for a long time as a revolving door.

With Venezuela, things have a different price (The same way, even if at a smaller size, with Nicaragua, whose President Daniel Ortega also talked about assassination and called Reyes a “brother”) the relationship Bogota-Caracas that was going badly, has received a mortal blow. The shutting down of the embassy is equivalent to a break in relations. This has no precedent in the interamerican system and on top of it, it happens due to a successful operation by a legitimate Government against an organization qualified as terrorist by half the world. To argue, as did the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, that the death of Reyes is a “slap in the face” and a “tough blow” to the humanitarian exchange is not to recognize the armed confrontation taking place in Colombia, of which the drop by drop release of hostages and the exchange itself are eloquent episodes.

The fact is that in this case, Chavez really blew it in a very definitive manner. He is taking the side of the FARC in a more open fashion. Which is a product of his deeper affinities with the guerrilla and also, due to his tactical political needs, after his defeat in the December referendum and in the face of critical elections next November, in the middle of an economic situation that becomes each day more unmanageable. Chavez seems to be full of reasons to escalate his confrontation with Colombia.

His reaction in the face of Reyes’ death has another effect beyond the opposing position that exists in Colombia with respect to the Uribe Government, the large majority of the country closes ranks in the face of what it perceives as a hostile and inadmissible intervention by Chavez in internal Colombian matters.

We will see which steps are taken next, but, for now, we enter in a tense period of confrontation, hopefully only verbal and diplomatic, between Colombia and Venezuela, To the prudent silence with which the Government has responded so far, maybe it is time to add international mediation or to look for the interamerican system to begin looking for an active role in a crisis that can destabilize the whole region. Things with Venezuela are turning to a dark color and that can’t be good for anybody.

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