At the end of Alvaro Uribe‘s last presidential term, Colombia’s judiciary was investigating allegations that the president ordered the wiretapping of members of the judiciary and the opposition, as well as investigating the alleged corruption of one of Uribe’s own sons. Caught in these cases, which are ongoing and not new, Uribe succeeded in diverting the attention of Colombia towards Venezuelan President Chavez with his accusations, which are also ongoing and nothing new.
Uribe is making believe that the International Criminal Court, the OAS, and the U.N. are going to hang Chavez for supporting terrorists. But Colombia is not a Jewish community, nor is Venezuela a Palestinian community, nor is Latin America the Middle East. The unequivocal international rejection of Operation Phoenix, Colombia’s 2008 raid on a FARC camp in Ecuadorean territory, demonstrated the international recognition of the right of each Latin American country to sovereignty over their territory.
The question is, who is responsible for taking care of the Colombian border and fighting the FARC – Chavez? Venezuela is not unique. It is estimated that there are more than 100 FARC camps scattered throughout Brazil, 62 in Ecuador, 40 in Peru, and around 20 in Panama, according to information from different government sources. Even in those countries that say they attack FARC, such as Panama and Peru, the FARC maintains a presence. Are these countries also harboring terrorism?
In all of those cases, Colombia is unable to stop FARC guerrillas crossing into its neighbors’ territory, and consequently it does not really have control of its own borders. This situation is Colombia’s fault, not that of its neighbors. No bordering country has Colombia’s capacity to fight the FARC. That Colombia can’t control its borders doesn’t make its neighboring countries terrorist collaborators. None of these countries can show that it fought and removed the FARC from their territory, and Chavez can’t be the only one forced to take responsibility for what no country has been able to accomplish, even Colombia.
Colombia cannot avoid the question – if FARC fighters are going to Venezuelan territory, and Colombia cannot follow them there, then why has Colombia allowed them to leave, unless it is letting FARC escape to Venezuela to justify a war against its brother country.
Whichever way you look at it, this problem is Colombia’s responsibility and nobody else’s.
If Colombian guerrillas have a presence in neighboring countries, the responsibility lies with Colombia. The presence of the Colombian army on the borders to stop guerrillas from exiting the country is an unavoidable requirement for any intelligent strategy in the war against the FARC. Uribe’s “democratic security” policy has been fighting with one hand tied behind its back by permitting FARC fighters to flee the country, causing incalculable economic, military, political, and diplomatic damage to the country.
If Colombia could control its borders effectively, it would block FARC’s exit, impede the free movement of narcotics, and allow the Colombian military to have complete control of the situation.
To abandon, or worse, to demand that other armies fulfill, the role of the Colombian armed forces only makes the impotence of the Colombian army more evident, which is a victory for FARC. It will always be wiser to trust the Colombian army, and depend on ourselves, rather than on the American or Venezuelan army.
Without our realizing it, these claims about the number of FARC guerrillas in neighboring countries are humiliating for the Colombian army. According to Uribe, the FARC has had control of the Colombians borders, not only with Venezuela, and that means they have escaped under the noses of the Colombian army whenever and as often as they want. Each guerrilla that arrived to Venezuela or whichever other neighboring country is a victory for FARC in as much as it shows the impotence of the Colombian army to detect or prevent the exit of FARC.
The fight against terrorism is an international obligation, but even the United States has been left defeated in this type of war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. To fight FARC is expensive in blood and treasure. Colombia has to demonstrate to each one of its neighboring countries that they can attack FARC without having the billions of dollars provided by Plan Colombia and Plan Patriot, without the need to increase their armies to a quarter of a million troops, without the need for their armies to have specialized training against the insurgency, without the need to invest millions of dollars in sophisticated anti-guerrilla paraphernalia such as fleets of Tucano airplanes, armored rapid river motorboats, and without the need for satellite intelligence from the United States and direct from the ground by Mossad. No neighboring country is going to make the insane decision to add to their budgets costs of that magnitude as a favor to Colombia. If Colombia’s war budget, enormous army, and all the equipment and help it enjoys from the United States (which has economic and political interests in Venezuela), has not been able to defeat the FARC in eight years of unceasing combat, who could possibly think that its neighboring countries can do a better job of what Colombia has not been able to do in half a century?
Everything seems to indicate that FARC has adopted a tactic of withdrawal and hiding during Uribe’s government, while at the same time converting themselves into a threat surrounding Colombia, by successfully capturing the support of other governments. Lay the blame at the feet of a foreign president if you want, but Uribe’s accusations show that the FARC, as the cause of an international conflict for Colombia, have a position of power that they have never had at this level before. If FARC was not in Venezuela, for example, would there even be a conflict with Chavez?
The war, for which the FARC was born, has strengthened its international offensive. The lack of dialogue gives the FARC space without them having to worry about compromises, negotiations, or responsibilities, and allowed them, in complete freedom, to develop a strategy and adapt tactics without any accord or deal to hinder them.
President Santos wants to correct this great damage that former President Uribe has inflicted on the dignity, sovereignty, and security of Colombia. Intelligently, Santos understands that conflict with Venezuela, Ecuador or whichever other neighboring country is a FARC ploy to crush the Colombian economy. The $8 billion worth of trade with Venezuela will help to finance the war against the FARC if good relations with the neighboring country can be maintained. Trade unites countries and the successful commerce Colombia can have with Ecuador and Venezuela means their support is guaranteed.
The Santos administration will accept in good faith that Venezuela and Ecuador are doing what they can against the FARC, because it is the strength of these relations that will hurt the FARC’s strategy.
The U.N. decided to educate Uribe in how to deal with foreign affairs. You cannot violate Israeli territory nor control territories like Gaza that allegedly harbor terrorists. Venezuela has the same right and authority over its own territory, no matter what guerrillas are there.
Jose Maria Rodriguez Gonzalez is an El Tiempo op-ed contributor and co-author of “El Golpe de Estado en Honduras desde una Perspectiva de los DD HH”. He specializes in United States foreign policy and armed conflict studies.