My column about no honeymoon between Colombia and Venezuela seems to have become true faster than I expected. Granted, I was talking about the relationship under the Santos presidency, but last week’s events on that front were very worrying, nonetheless. Presidents Uribe and Chavez have fought again, and the Venezuelan autocrat has broken the diplomatic bridges between the two countries. The binational relationship is at its lowest point in decades.
There can be no doubt about who was right in all this. I know this is not a very popular opinion, but the Colombian government was right to remind everybody that Venezuela houses terrorists with total impunity. For years, Chavez has used Venezuelan soil to protect FARC commanders, with whom he shares the same murderous ideology that has tormented so many countries everywhere. Mr. Chavez’s unholy links to FARC must be revealed and investigated, not least because it is the truth, and because the Colombian and the Venezuelan peoples deserve to know this. Protecting terrorists is a crime, and the public has the right to know who is guilty of it.
Of course, some Colombians are mad at President Uribe for having spoiled the hope of fixing the relationship with Venezuela. President-elect Santos was making efforts toward a rapprochement with Caracas, but now that there is no diplomatic channel, that looks more like a long-term project. Colombian industries have been severely affected by the Venezuelan blockade, and now that the situation has become worse still, another US$ 3 billion in Colombian exports are expected to fade away. Needless to say, some entrepreneurs, many industrial employees and the people living along the border are not happy with the ways things are.
I have heard the argument that Colombia should stop bringing up the issue of FARC’s presence in Venezuela, since nobody expects Mr. Chavez to change his attitude anytime soon. Given that Colombia cannot remedy that situation, Bogota should only focus on mending the diplomatic and the commercial relation with that country. In other words, it is foolish to give Venezuela more reasons to strengthen its blockade against Colombia, if Mr. Chavez will keep protecting FARC in any case.
These people who believe that it is better to ignore FARC’s presence in Venezuela are wrong. First, because doing so would be immoral. Those terrorists are the enemies of the Colombian state and the authors of countless and atrocious crimes against civilians. Second, ignoring FARC is never good. Every minute of freedom and protection those FARC commanders get, is one minute in which they are preparing to attack Colombians. Under the Pastrana administration, FARC was ignored for over three years, a time they used to become a formidable military force that put Colombia on the brink of becoming a failed state.
The evidence must be revealed without hesitation. If Mr. Chavez will keep protecting those FARC leaders regardless of what we do, then Colombia’s best alternative is to expose Venezuela’s behavior before the world’s eyes. That way, at least, Mr. Chavez’s actions will not go untold and undocumented. Furthermore, by planting the seed of doubt about the Venezuelan government, Colombia has made sure that Caracas has a tougher time in its dealings with the rest of the world. Just like with Iran and its nuclear program, the evidence against Venezuela may not be irrefutable, but it surely is strong enough to provoke a reaction from other countries in the region and beyond. We shall see.
What surprised me from last week’s events is how many people seem to blame President Uribe for the whole affair. The Colombian government denounced the criminal protection that Venezuela has provided to members of FARC, and somehow Mr. Uribe is the bad guy in the whole affair. Semana, a leading magazine, asks on its front cover whether the revelations by the Colombian government were “necessary”. In an editorial, The Economist maintains that “Mr Uribe threatens to be Mr Santos’s worst enemy”. In response, I can’t say whether the revelations were necessary, but I know they certainly were right. And about Mr. Uribe’s supposed interference in the Santos government, let me just point out that the President cannot intervene in an administration that has not even started yet.
The Colombian government was standing up for the national interest when those videos and photographs were revealed before the OAS. The Venezuelan regime, lacking arguments for a sound defense, denied everything and militarized the border. As Ambassador Hoyos said in Washington, if there are no FARC members in Venezuela, Mr. Chavez should have no problem in letting an international commission verify this. To use the nuclear analogy again, when IAEA teams are not given full access in any country, the suspicions begin. The same logic applies here, and with its actions, Venezuela is showing that Colombia’s accusations ring true enough to hurt.