Hugo Chavez’s thuggish attitude is not only a menace for Colombia and Colombians in general, but also for Colombia’s democracy. This menace is not direct, but is an indirect threat manifested in high popular support for Uribe. Colombian anti-Chavismo feeling is stronger than any opposition to the Colombian government.
Venezuela’s urban violence, rampant corruption, blackouts, unpaid civil servants, decline in public services, 26.7 percent inflation in October, and the GDP contraction of 4.5 percent, among other disastrous realities, are costing Chavez’s government dearly. His popularity is now below 50 percent. Chavez seems to think that the stronger his insults and war threats, the higher his popularity will be. This, of course, has not worked, and today 80 percent of Venezuelans disagree with Chavez’s war rhetoric.
If war breaks out Chavez would have even less support in the international arena. Most, if not all, regional governments denounced the Colombia-US military agreement that effectively handed Colombian sovereignty over to the US. The region, however, may be more concerned with the intelligence-gathering nature of the bases, and related political destabilization, than with their potential use as a launching-pad to attack Venezuela. A war scenario would also be detrimental to the South American Union’s fragile structure. The regional community’s silence over the latest provocation by Venezuela may be a result of a Union still in its infancy, rather than being a deliberate act of support for Chavez. Unasur’s Defense Council’s extraordinary meeting on Friday November 27 may help to clarify the region’s true stance.
A conventional war, however, is highly unlikely, due to the internal as well as the international consequences for Chavez. His war diatribes have started to make Chavez as a liability for progressive governments and leaders in the region, as Piedad Cordoba can attest. Chavez’s latest comments, in which he called Robert Mugabe and Ahmadinejad his “brothers”, as well as questioning Uganda’s former dictator Idi Amin’s reputation as a human rights abuser, say it all. Even the Brazilian Congress has once again postponed the vote to allow Venezuela to join the Common Market of the South (Mercosur).
Regional sentiments towards Chavez have also been affected by Uribe’s and the US’s measured responses. Many commentators, like fellow Colombia Reports columnist Pablo Rojas Mejia, and El Tiempo editorials, have questioned Washington’s lack of assertive support for Uribe’s government. But responding to his provocations is what gives fuel to Chavez’s incendiary comments and actions. Moreover, the current economic war, which is costing US$4 million in daily losses for Colombia, could be reversed if Chavez’s national and international support dwindles as a result of his war rhetoric.
However, Chavez’s animosity towards Colombia has wider consequences, especially for Colombia’s democracy.
Even though Colombia’s constitution (once among the most progressive in the world) has been much disfigured by Uribe’s government, Colombia still has a few independent institutions, such as the Supreme Court, which render the term democracy applicable to the country. But Chavez’s schizophrenic actions destroy the livelihoods of communities that depend on trade between the two countries. The resentment created by this threatens Colombia’s democracy. Colombian anti-Chavismo feeling is stronger than any opposition to the Colombian government.
Uribe has repeatedly said that he would only consider running for re-election if there is a “hecatombe” or large-scale slaughter. Uribe’s delusion that he is an indispensable savior would be even more cemented in Colombians minds if Chavez’s thuggish attitude continues. The latest (misleading) poll showed that Uribe’s popularity reached 64 percent, its lowest level in seven years, after Colombians finally realized who Uribe is really governing for. However, the current stand-off with Venezuela will definitely help Uribe regain ground in the realm of public opinion.
Regardless of the innumerable scandals rocking Uribe’s government, a pre-war scenario would only strengthen a war-minded president like Uribe. Colombia’s collective memory is legendary for its shortcomings. Scandals such as Para-politics, Yidis-politics, extrajudicial killings, Carimagua, DAS illegal wiretapping, free trade zones given to Uribe’s sons, notaries scandal, humanitarian crisis and Agro Ingreso Seguro, among others, will not even be considered if the re-election of the president depends on a war scenario with Chavez.
Uribe’s popularity is expected to rebound sharply due to the failure of the censorship motion against the Minister of Agriculture and the latest delusional rants by the Venezuelan leader. This political oxygen only furthers Uribe’s determination to remain in power if the Constitutional Court succumbs to his plans. Alternatively, former War Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos would be the most favored candidate to neutralize Chavez. In any case, Colombia’s institutions would lose out, and with them what little remains of Colombia’s democracy.
If the FARC deserves credit for the election of the Colombian president in 2002 and 2006, Chavez will do the same in 2010.