As Santos Becomes Colombian President, U.S. Bases and Tensions Remain
At Colombia's request an extraordinary session of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) was convened on July 22 to hear accusations from outgoing president Álvaro Uribe that there are "1,500 guerrillas and dozens of encampments of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Venezuela." With both groups labeled "terrorist" organizations by Bogotá and Washington this escalation of tension as Uribe leaves office is a provocation.
Chávez responded by accusing Uribe of using the allegations as a pretext for war. He placed the the Venezuelan armed forces, particularly those 20,000 troops stationed along the Colombian-Venezuelan border, on "maximum alert." The Venezuelan embassy in Bogotá was closed and Colombian diplomats in Caracas were given 72 hours to vacate the country. All this took place in weeks before Juan Manuel Santos will be installed as president of Colombia on August 7.
Given the March 2008 Colombian Air Force bombing of a FARC encampment in Angostura, Ecuador (1.8 kilometers over the border) that left 26 people dead this was a calculated maneuver. Particularly disturbing is the fact that the operation was conducted by Santos, who was then Uribe's Minister of Defense. The incident revealed the lengths Uribe and Santos were willing to go -- including violating another nation's sovereignty -- in order to destroy FARC.
The responses of both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton at the time were to back Colombia. Last year the Obama administration covered for the coup plotters in Honduras, with the U.S. State Department admitting that it had consulted with them prior to Zelaya's overthrow (Wall Street Journal, 6/29/09). Subsequently Washington legitimated the 2009 election and encouraged countries that cut diplomatic relations in the wake of the coup to reestablish them now that Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo has been installed as president.
While Chávez attempted to mediate a negotiated settlement with the FARC to release some of their hostages in 2008, Uribe has proclaimed "no negotiations with terrorists." Such an approach has made the political settlement to the armed conflict impossible. This, in turn, has led to continued displacement and assassinations within Colombia and increased tension along the Ecuadoran and Venezuelan border.
At the beginning of August, as Ángel Guerra Cabrera pointed out in La Jornada, the Mexican daily, "The fact that that Venezuela, a country with amongst the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, has an independent orientation" stands in the way of Washington's plans of a "free market" economy and a foreign policy tied to U.S. imperialism. The installation of seven new U.S. military bases in the country is a dagger aimed at Venezuela.
For more information about U.S. demonstrations taking place in Colombia, go to http://soaw.org/.