It’s about time that Colombia made public its intelligence about FARC presence on Venezuelan soil. It is not evidence that indicates active support from Chavez’s government for the guerrillas, but it does indicate a passive tolerance. This is as condemnable as Pakistan’s indifference to the Taliban elements operating happily in Waziristan.
Venezuela does nothing to deter the FARC from using its territory as a safe haven, and does nothing to punish the low-level (perhaps also mid-range or even high-level) officials who surely look the other way as guerrillas slip back and forth across the border. Also unhindered are Colombia’s drug lords: officials have indicated that “El Loco” Barrera is most likely based in Venezuela, similarly to the ex-capo of the Norte del Valle cartel, Wilber Varela, who was killed there in 2008.
But what is also interesting about Colombia’s accusations is what they indicate about the nature of the FARC conflict. Colombia has long been fighting a very unconventional battle. You might say it has now officially become the textbook example of the nature of postmodern warfare.
With the existence of reportedly 87 FARC camps in Venezuela, it’s clear that the nation state has become so twentieth century. National boundaries have become porous if not invisible, and illegal armies have no reason to respect borders that exist only on paper. The fact that the FARC are operating in Venezuela at all indicates how truly fluid these twenty-first century criminal organizations have become, and how ill-equipped are the governments that must grapple with these transnational warriors.
Not only is Colombia now a great example of the end of conventional warfare, but the FARC-Venezuela allegations prove again that we are also looking at the end of conventional enemies. The border-hopping, opportunistic nature of the FARC is a far cry from the organized, visible, uniformed armies of Yore. From Afghanistan to Colombia, we are now looking at a scenario very similar to the scene in “Macbeth” when Birnam Wood marches upon Dunsinane. In essence the Colombian military is fighting an army of moving trees.
And for these kinds of combatants, the last thing they want to do is stand and fight openly on a battlefield. Instead we see the kinds of strategies invoked by the FARC over the past ten years: take refuge in foreign territory. Ambush. Snipe. Materialize quickly, and disappear just as fast. We saw this as recently as last week’s FARC attack in northern Antioquia, when guerrillas killed at least one police officer with a cell phone activated bomb, then melted away into the hills per usual. You barely need a trained unit to conduct those kinds of attacks, just two or three guys who know how to handle and for whom a never-ending war is more appealing than any Piedad-Cordoba-brokered peace deal.
If the FARC have now truly become the archetypical, unconventional enemy so characteristic of this century’s wars, so has Venezuela become an example of twenty-first century failure. While Chavez literally exhumes the bones of past revolutions, he has proven himself incapable of paying the slightest attention to the realities of the present. Look no further than his farcical comments that the U.S. is using Colombia’s FARC accusations as a front for “penetrating” Venezuela. His inability to accept responsibility for both personal and collective failures now appears truly pathological.
This is the only latest example of the Chavista government bewailing their victimhood in a world bewitched by gringoized globalization. Decrying the influence of former colonial powers worked very well in tracts by Eduardo Galeano, but it does not work in 2010. Blaming the U.S. for Venezuela’s problems does not change the behavior that led to these problems. And Venezuela is in serious problems economically, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of crime and homicide rates, and in terms of media freedom. This is undeniably the century of the free-flowing trade, free-flowing terrorist guerrilla armies, and of course free-flowing information. Venezuela’s reaction to Colombia’s allegations – as though this most basic reality was something to be denied, manipulated, controlled and skewed – speaks volumes about the failings of Chavez’s regime.
In the meantime, it looks like tensions between Venezuela and Colombia will remain nerve-wrackingly high. Nobody seems to want one of those oh-so-conventional, interstate conflicts to break out between Chavez’s government and Santos’. Everyone from the OAS to the U.S. State Department to Colombia’s vice-President-elect have been quick to call for increased diplomacy. But until then the real war is happening in a Thomas-Friedman-esque “flat” world, involving warriors who care little for states, let alone for peace. Birnam Wood may indeed be coming to Dursinane, and so far Chavez’s reaction has not strayed that far from Macbeth’s. Ah, hubris!