Over the last weeks, there has been news about border security projects between Colombia and three of its neighbors: Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador. As I wrote in a previous column, border security and development is one of the most important challenges for Colombia in 2011 because weak borders mean high levels of illegal activity.
The fact that illegal armed groups, drug traffickers and overall organized crime members can move across borders with ease undermines Colombia’s security efforts. The new projects to improve border control, and the governments’ interests in the borders themselves, come very late, but at least they’re not too shabby.
Clearly one of Colombia’s most important borders: Panama’s role in international commerce logistics makes the border a potential smuggler’s heaven. It is also one of the most important geopolitical locations in the world because a safe border means a safe Panama Canal. The problem with it is that a great deal of it is jungle and in one of Colombia’s poorest areas, which means that both public and private presence is minimal. Finally, since the greatest drug market is in the north, then Panama is also in constant danger of having drug trafficking through its border with Colombia.
The combination of a mountain range and jungle makes it a very difficult terrain to watch. Although it is a rather small border, it has become one of the most important ones in the fight against the illegal groups as was proven by the bombing of a FARC encampment a few kilometers into Ecuadorian territory from the border. In fact, according to Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, this incident proved that his country’s military capabilities were rather lacking and thus recently announced the purchase of new military equipment, air fighters in particular, to be ready for anything.
Although some may take this as a provocation or the beginning of an arms race, there really seems to be nothing to worry about: Ecuador is not very likely to engage in armed combat with Colombia, as the latter has better military capabilities and its capital is very far away from the border, contrary to Quito’s relative proximity. It just seems to be a rallying speech from Correa.
This is by far Colombia’s biggest border. The Venezuelan government has recently been very helpful in ensuring border security and cooperation between Colombian and Venezuelan authorities is at its peak in a long time: Extraditions, capturing illegal armed groups members, giving blow after blow to drug trafficking.
Ensuring the security and the development of the border with Venezuela must be one of Colombia’s top priorities for several reasons: First, the Colombian population near it tends to receive more influence from the Venezuelan heartlands than from the Colombian ones, which results in a break of national unity and undermines the state in the region. Second, despite all the troubles (and thanks to Colombian businessmen’s stubbornness), Venezuela is still and will be for a while one of Colombia’s top export destinations. Third, given the recent history, it’s best to keep an eye on this particular neighbor. Finally, time and time again, it has been pointed out that the drug trafficking activity in Venezuela is great, even to the point of accusing the Venezuelan state of being a narco-state, just as Mexican ex-president Vicente Fox said recently (this, of course, has been denied by the Venezuelan authorities).
This new cooperation on border security will surely prove to be one of the best strategies implemented against the illegal groups and drug trafficking. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly illegal flows wane.