April 2007, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy
Pelosi, came under sharp criticism from Republicans after she made a
visit to Syria and met with President Bashar
Assad there. To Speaker Pelosi, her attempt at diplomacy was an
opportunity to open some sort of dialogue with the Syrians in order to
help start an unlikely peace process with Israel. “The road to Damascus
is a road to peace” were Ms. Pelosi’s
words at the time. It seemed that Speaker Pelosi could not care less
about the fact that Syria was listed by the State Department as a state
sponsor of terror, being home to Hezbollah. It also seemed that Speaker Pelosi could not care less about the mixed signals she was sending to the Israelis, strong US allies, given the visit by such a high ranking American
official to a country that was their sworn enemy. Finally, it seemed
that Speaker Pelosi could not care less about the fact that it is the
executive branch, and not Congress, who defines American foreign
policy. Two years after Ms. Pelosi’s “bungled shuttle diplomacy”, as
Fox News called it, it has become clear that her trip achieved nothing,
being little more than a photo-op for a Speaker who was new in the job
and craved some attention.
A similar thing occurred this week after a group of Colombian politicians visited President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela,
in the midst of the current crisis between the two Andean nations. The
first visit came from Colombian President Ernesto Samper. After meeting
with President Chávez
for about two hours, Mr. Samper made a statement saying that he had
listened to “the concerns of the Venezuelan government” regarding the
military base deal agreed between the US and Colombia. Although Mr. Chávez
insisted that Mr. Samper was not a mediator in the crisis, for there
was “no possible mediation” in the present circumstances, Mr. Samper
said that he would brief President Alvaro Uribe about his meeting back in Bogotá. The question remains whether President Uribe authorized Mr. Samper to discuss relations between Venezuela and Colombia with President Chávez –thus far, it seems that the former President simply informed the Uribe administration of his intention to meet with Mr. Chávez, but asked for no special permission.
Then, there was a second visit to President Chávez, this time by Senator Piedad Córdoba and an NGO called Colombianos por la Paz (Colombians for Peace), made up mostly by the relatives of current and former FARC-held hostages. After the meeting, Mr. Chávez agreed to send back his ambassador to Bogota and to help open a number of “peace bases” in order to balance against the
effect of the “war bases” that will have American troops in Colombia.
Senator Córdoba has already stated that one of the bases would be in
the Ecuadorean province of Sucumbíos, where Raúl
Reyes was killed last year by the Colombian armed forces. A second
peace base would be located in the department of Meta in Colombia, a
FARC stronghold. Finally, members of the leftist Polo Democrático Alternativo (PDA) also visited Mr. Chávez in Caracas to talk about the diplomatic crisis and ways to solve it. PDA President, Jaime Dussán, was among those who attended the meeting.
It would be easy to believe that the Colombian left, by talking to President Chávez, is working for the greater interest of Colombia. Trying to mend our relations with our most influential neighbor is an important task, and at
least some sort of dialogue has been set up in the middle of this
crisis –perhaps this could be a first step for a meeting between
Messrs. UribeChávez. So thought Nancy Pelosi when she went to Damascus. But just like the Speaker failed in her attempt at diplomacy, the Colombian left should know that the road to Caracas is the road to nowhere. With their rendezvous at Palacio de Miraflores, President Samper, Senators Córdoba and Dussán, and Colombianos for la Paz have achieved nothing important besides harming their own political standing. They will have a hard time to convince the Colombian public
that they are not selling out to the autocrat of Caracas. The return of
the Venezuelan ambassador to Bogotá is simply a token gesture by
President Chávez that means no real improvement in the crisis. Trade has all but stopped, and just on Sunday, Mr. Chávez told his soldiers again to be “ready for combat” with Colombia.
And what is this peace base nonsense? First of all, what is a peace base? If I had to guess I would say it smells of Hugo Chávez’s petrodollars and it is full of Socialist and anti-American propaganda. But if there is something Colombia has in surplus, that is NGOs trying to advance the Orwellian ends of the radical left. By those standards, Colombia has plenty of ‘peace’ bases and ‘peace’
fighters already. We need fewer, not more of them. The Colombian
government would do well in monitoring the bank accounts of these peace
bases and kick them out if they are run using Venezuelan funds, which
is tantamount to interference in Colombian politics.
Finally, someone should give Mr. Chávez’s visitors a class or two of constitutional law. Article 189 of the Colombian Constitution states very
clearly that the authority to direct Colombian foreign policy rests
with the President and his Minister of Foreign Affairs. No senator or
former president has the power to negotiate
with foreign governments on behalf of Colombia or its people. Even if
they never claimed to be talking on behalf of the government, or to
have the authority to do so, those who met with President Chávez
last week crossed a fine line when they talked about these important
issues in Caracas. Colombia has only one constitutional, legitimate,
and internationally recognized government headed by President Alvaro Uribe. Only the government, those authorized by it, and no one else should direct Colombian diplomacy worldwide. If the Partido Liberal and the PDA do not like the way in which the Uribe administration is guiding Colombia’s foreign affairs, they can change this by winning an election next year.
But, anyway, we could not expect much from a former President who got to power with drug money, who was banned to travel to the US while he was in power, and
who left the country broke, or from a Senator who has said that
Colombia needs many more people like the FARC’s founder, the late
Manuel Marulanda Vélez. Their sympathies, no doubt, remain with President Hugo Chávez in this crisis. Perhaps the next time the PDA, President Samper and Senator Córdoba get a plane to Caracas, they should buy a one-way ticket only.
Author Gustavo Silva is Colombian and studies
Public Policy and International Affairs at Princeton University in the
U.S. He has his personal weblog.