Archive for March 7th, 2008

Why did Venezuela and Ecuador blink at the Group of Rio summit?

March 7, 2008

Anyone watching the proceedings this afternoon at the Group of Rio summit at the Dominican Republic had to wonder what changed the tone at a certain critical point during the afternoon.

It all started quite tense, Uribe began speaking and started making charges against Ecuador attempting to explain why it was that he did not warn that country’s Government of the raid on the FARC camp a mile within the Ecuadorian Government. He read from the same emails we have seen, but he also read from letters or emails we have yet to see. At one point, Uribe said that to those that say it was not possible for a computer to survive such an attack, that the Colombian Armed Forces had actually recovered not one, but four computers from the camp. Uribe made many charges, avoiding mentioning Venezuela most of the time and concentrating on the problems with Ecuador, past and present. Uribe said he was handing over a folder with all of the material to te President of Ecuador and showed a thick folder, which he said would be brought also to the Penal Court in The Hague.

The President of Ecuador Rafael Correa replied to Uribe and was quite forceful even asking Uribe to shut up at one point and calling him a liar. Correa said his hands were clean and that Uribe did not even have to call him, that a military contact should have been sufficient. Then each of the various Presidents from the region spoke, except the Foreign Minister of Brazil, since Lula was not present. When Hugo Chavez spoke I was expecting something fiery and forceful, instead we got a bunch of meandering anecdotes which had nothing to do with the conflict, spiked with historical tales like if he does regularly on his Sunday program Alo Presidente (He also sang a merengue). I could not believe it, here was the man that raised the bar and the tension in the conflict and he was not even addressing the issues.

(In the middle of all these guys speaking the, news carried two items almost in sequence: 1) That the Colombian Government had killed the number 5 man at the FARC, 2) That the same Minister that Uribe had criticized earlier as lying to Uribe and having contacts with the FARC, was announcing in Ecuador that Ingrid Betancourt was going to be released with 11 other hostages.)

As Chavez was talking he asked Correa if the rumor was true, Correa said this was not the case. Then Uribe made a point by point rebuttal of everything that had been said and supported statements made by the Presidents of Argentina and Chile. But his tone was much softer than before, he was using examples and history more than rebuttals. He was quite forceful in saying that he could care less about Ecuador’s definition of terrorism or its policies, but he would not accept that Correa refer to the FARC’s leader Marulanda as a hero or a friend. (I am doing this from memory, so the words may have been different)

Then, Uribe who had earlier said that he would apologize whenever he thought it was appropriate, got up and shook hands with Correa, Correa accepted the apology, Nicaragua reestablished relations with Colombia, Chavez said he never broke them formally and he only “moved a few soldiers to reinforce the usual ones at the border”. Immediately afterwards, Uribe said he would not take Chavez to the World Court and everybody was happy.

Well, sorry, I just don’t buy it. There had to be something more. The sharp tone disappeared suddenly as if by magic, everyone backed down. (while in Caracas the Minister of Finance was making the stupid claim that in one month Venezuela would replace all imports from Colombia, a laughable statement. Meanwhile, the new People’s Ombudsman was saying that Colombia should give the FARC political recognition, which Uribe was ratifying he would not do)

My theory? Easy, Uribe a master politician, had only leaked earlier some of the information gathered at the guerrilla camp and there was much more than they had released to the press two days ago. Either the additional material was being passed on to the various Governments as Uribe spoke, or it was handed over at that point to Correa and Chavez. Chavez was simply too timid, talking about peace, religion, God, even calling for a mass (how cynical can he be?). My further guess is that the Colombian Government uncovered financial information compromising both Ecuador and Venezuela. In fact, Uribe read at one point a letter from a FARC leader mentioning a specific amount of aid to the FARC from the Ecuadorian Government. Recall also that reportedly information gathered from the guerrilla camp was used by Interpol to capture a Russian arms leader that was on the run in Thailand, far from all this.

Thus, Ecuador and Venezuela blinked and it is all fine and dandy all of a sudden. I am sure we will hear more details slowly as in Latin America secrets are not meant to be kept. Meanwhile, Uribe in my mind scored a huge victory, deflating the crisis. It is my belief that Chavez wanted to inflate it for his own political purposes, but his attitude today showed to me that he was rebuked and he will have to wait for another chance to generate another artificial crisis.