From war fever to schmoozing: Andean crisis resolved?

The leaders of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela formally ended their dispute March 7 with handshakes and embraces at the 20th Rio Group Summit in the Dominican Republic, approving a “Santo Domingo Declaration,” which condemns Colombia’s March 1 cross-border raid in Ecuador but emphasizes the need for regional cooperation in combating illegal armed groups. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe apologized for the raid and pledged to refrain from further such incursions, in exchange for commitments on cooperation. The Rio Group, established in 1986, is a regional bloc aimed at promoting political and economic cooperation.

“With the commitment of never attacking a brother country again and by asking forgiveness, we can consider this very serious incident resolved,” said Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, after shaking hands with Uribe. Uribe, in turn, made excuses for his failure to secure Correa’s consent for the raid: “I didn’t inform him of the operation because we have not received cooperation from his government in the fight against terrorism.”

The political turn-around was dramatic. Uribe had started the day accusing Correa of accepting campaign funds from the FARC guerillas, and Correa had responded by calling Uribe a serial liar. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, who had mobilized troops and tanks to the Colombian border and threatened to nationalize Colombian companies operating in his country, said, “Our government only wants peace.”

Another FARC commander killed
As peace was breaking out in Santo Domingo, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos announced in Bogotá the death of another FARC commander, Manuel Jesús Muñoz—better known by his nom de guerre, Iván Ríos. The youngest member of the FARC’s seven-man secretariat, Ríos was apparently killed at the hands of his own troops. “This is proof that the FARC is falling apart,” Santos said. (NYT, Xinhua, Bloomberg, BBC, El Pais, Spain, March 8)

Iván Ríos was commander of the FARC’s José Maria Córdoba Front and coordinator of the guerilla group’s Northwest Bloc. His severed right hand, along with his passport and identification card (cédula) were turned over to authorities as proof of his death by Pedro Pablo Montoya Cortez, alias Rojas, the FARC’s internal security chief. Reporters were on hand as Rojas turned the grisly artifacts over to troops of the San Mateo de Pereira Battalion, a special anti-guerilla unit. (El Pais, Cali, March 8) Rojas reportedly presented himself to the Battalion the night of March 6 at the settlement (vereda) of Albania, in Aguadas municipality, Caldas department, about 180 kilometers northwest of Bogotá. (El Comercio, Quito, from AP, EFE, March 8)

According to the Colombian Defense Ministry, the Eighth Brigade of the Colombian army had been closing in on Ríos since mid-February. The Ministry said Rojas “turned himself in,” and said he had killed Ríos to relieve the military pressure on his comrades in the the FARC’s 47th Front, which served as Ríos’ security ring. (Miami Herald, March 8)

The US State Department had a standing bounty of $5 million for Ríos’ capture. He faced drug trafficking charges in the United States, and was on the US Treasury Department list of terrorists and drug traffickers. Associated Press gave his real name as José Juvenal Velandia. (AP, March 8)

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