The Organization of American States (OAS) approved a resolution March 5 declaring the Colombian military raid into Ecuador a violation of sovereignty. The resolution was approved in Washington after talks in which the United States was the hemisphere’s only nation explicitly supporting Colombia. While the measure stopped short of condemning Colombia for the raid, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister María Isabel Salvador said: “We consider this agreement a triumph for the concept that every nation’s territory cannot be violated whatever the reason. Ecuador is a peaceful country that had been dragged into this unfortunate situation.”
Venezuela’s troop movements continued, with Defense Minister Gustavo Rangel saying that 10 tank battalions were being sent to the border, along with mobilizations of the air force and navy. Gen. Rangel said the maneuvers were aimed at containing the reach of the United States, implicitly portraying Colombia as a proxy: “It is not against the people of Colombia, but rather the expansionist designs of the empire.”
Colombia reiterated that it was not planning to order troops to its border in a response to Venezuela’s mobilization. “The precise instructions to our armed forces are not to move one single soldier toward the border,” said Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.
The White House openly portrayed Venezuela as the aggressor—despite the fact that it is Colombia which has transgressed an international border. “We do think it’s curious that a country such as Venezuela would be raising the specter of military action against a country who was defending itself against terrorism,” said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. “I think that says a lot about Venezuela.” (NYT, March 6)
Bush backs Uribe; exploits crisis to push trade pact
Bush, who telephoned Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe on the morning of March 4, announced to reporters at the White House later that day: “I told the president that America fully supports Colombia’s democracy, and that we firmly oppose any acts of aggression that could destabilize the region.”
Employing a new strategy to portray the trade agreement with Colombia as a national security concern, Bush used the occasion to call on Congress to ratify the deal as a way of undermining populist leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez: “If we fail to approve this agreement, we will let down our close ally, we will damage our credibility in the region and we will embolden the demagogues in our hemisphere. President [Uribe] told me that the people across the region are watching to see what the United States will do.”
“Dirty bomb” hype —again
Adding to the tensions, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos claimed March 4 that material recovered from the laptop of slain FARC commander Raul Reyes indicated the guerillas had been seeking to procure 110 pounds of uranium—allegedly to make a radioactive “dirty bomb.”
“This shows that these terrorist groups, supported by the economic power provided by drug trafficking, constitute a grave threat not just to our country but to the entire Andean region and Latin America,” Santos said at a UN disarmament meeting in Geneva, in a statement that was posted in Spanish on the conference’s website. The rebels were “negotiating to get radioactive material, the primary base for making dirty weapons of destruction and terrorism.”
Reporting his comment,s the New York Times added: “It was unclear from Mr. Santos’s statement with whom the rebels were negotiating.”
Colombia’s peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo was quoted by Reuters saying only “It is evident that there is someone abroad who is willing to sell to them, they have even spoken of prices, the deal is ready and that simply have to make contact and give assent.”
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Salvador, demanding the OAS condemn the Colombian aggression, said: “Ecuador rejects any effort by Colombia to avoid responsibility for violating its sovereignty, which is a right that secures the peaceful coexistence of all nations. Diplomatic apologies are not enough.”
Colombia’s OAS Ambassador Camilo Ospina denied accusations that Colombian troops used military force on Ecuadoran territory, claiming that aircraft fired into Ecuador from the Colombian side of the border. He did acknowledge that after the bombing, Colombian forces entered Ecuador to inspect the FARC camp—and found evidence that Ecuador was harboring the guerillas.
Ospina said that information on the laptops seized from the camp indicated that President Rafael Correa’s government had met several times with the FARC and allowed them to set up permanent bases on Ecuadoran territory. “There is not the least doubt that the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador have been negotiating with terrorists,” Ospina said. “Allowing terrorist groups to keep camps on their territory border for the planning and execution of terrorist acts is a crime and a clear violation of international treaties.”
On his March 2 TV broadcast, Chávez called for a minute of silence to mourn for Reyes—providing further fodder for Venezuela’s opposition. “Chávez is effectively supporting narcoterrorists who take refuge in Venezuela and Ecuador while saying a democratically elected leader of Colombia cannot fight back,” said Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the UN who is a vocal critic of Chávez. (NYT, WP, March 5; Reuters América Latina, Semana, Bogotá, March 4)
Ecuador’s President Correa visited Peru March 5 on the first leg of a tour to solicit Latin American backing for sanctions against Colombia. “If this act goes unpunished, the whole region will be in danger, because the next victim could be Peru, it could be Brazil, it could be Venezuela, Bolivia or any of our countries,” Correa said in televised comments in Lima. “Colombia’s attitude is creating a danger for the entire region and setting intolerable precedents.” (WP, March 5)
See our last posts on the Colombia/Venezuela/Ecuador crisis.