Seeking to legitimize himself after repeated political failures in recent months, Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chavez has launched the next phase in his political kabuki theatre to undermine U.S. interests in the region. Over at the Human Events website Gustavo Coronel, a former Venezuelan Congressman, details Chavez’s latest effort in his war of attrition against Colombian democracy.
The first act in this political canard was the release of two hostages held by the FARC-People’s Army in the jungles of Colombia. The orchestrated release by Venezuela, Cuba, and FARC leader Manuel Marulanda almost never materialized and culminated in a spectacle in Caracas that included impromptu press conferences with Chavez and Hollywood personalities such as Oliver Stone. Yet, just in time for Three Kings Day celebrations or there abouts, the release of the hostages finally came.
Cuba and Venezuela needed the release of the hostages to continue with the high stakes political theatre. It now needs to legitimize a terrorist group, try to force Colombia’s President to publicly refuse to talk peace or portray him as not willing to do so, and further grow Venezuela’s official and public contacts with a new country in southern Colombia governed by the FARC.
Look at a map of the Andean region encompassing the area of Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador. Colombian democracy is right in the middle of Cuban/Venezuelan plans to create a Bolivarian/Marxist union on the continent. For these people Colombia is a problem because it is an ally of the U.S. and because it is the strongest democracy in the region that upholds free markets, rule of law, and a tough line against terrorism and the narcotic trade. How to divide or create problems? Support Colombia’s longest existing terrorist organization, or how Chavez has recently started to refer to it, a government with an army governing a large area of southern Colombia. The next act? The FARC will name an Ambassador to Venezuela or Cuba and these countries to do likewise? Not likely but not a far-fetched idea.
“You’ll excuse me if we don’t take that advice,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said responding to a question from reporters regarding Chavez’s statement that the FARC not be listed as a terrorist group. “Look, they earned their way on to the terrorism list,” McCormack said, noting that FARC continues to hold many hostages, including three Americans, despite their release of two Colombian politicians last week. “If there is any reason whatsoever to take a group off the terrorism list, then that’s done,” McCormack said. “But I’m not aware of any substantial change in a pattern of behavior by the FARC that would merit their being taken off the list.”
Chavez is somewhat of a trigger happy individual and his adventurism could propel the region towards more, not less, armed conflicts. For example, last year the Venezuelan military blew up two Guyanese mining vessels on a river near the Guyana and Venezuelan border. Operation Tepuy took about three days and dealt with removing illegal mining operations from Venezuelan territory, or so say the Venezuelans. In addition to armed conflict, the Venezuelans are amassing large amounts of weapons including a new fleet of military submarines and a manufacturing plant of Russian Kalashnikov rifles. What would a small South American nation need such things for if not to project itself in the region to advance a particular agenda such as the Bolivarian Union?
Ironically, Colombia has seen much conflict throughout its history and it was Simon Bolivar’s aspiration of uniting Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia that fueled a lot of it as his vision for a Gran Colombia gave way to other, independence-minded forces. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez seek to exploit this history not to pick up where Bolivar left off, but to expand Castroism/Marxism throughout the continent. The FARC-People’s Army is a key piece of this puzzle.
Chavez has made clear that he will continue to advance an anti-American agenda for so long as he remains in power. He has allied Venezuela with the likes of Iran, North Korea and Syria. Some policy-makers argue he, as does Cuba, grants safe haven to terrorist groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. The Chinese Communist Party also finds a good friend with the Cubans and the Venezuelans. Like a hub-and-spoke, all of these networks tap into other countries such as Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.
For the moment, Hugo Chavez’s recent comments about the FARC-People’s Army sound a lot like a Cuban/Venezuelan plan to take Colombian territory into a Bolivarian Union. Only time will tell if this is so and, if so, what we and Colombia plan to do in response to such anachronistic adventurism.
In a post-09/11/01 world such activity is especially unwarranted and not helpful to the greater goals of free-markets, institution building, and regional integration by the democracies of the hemisphere.
For the U.S., it means taking a sober and new look at our options and being prepared to respond to any attempts that further destabilize the region and that undermine U.S. interests. The Congress and its relevant oversight Committees should also review upcoming foreign aid and trade programs that could impact on this process with the target countries and those that support them.