There was a fantastic show in Caracas yesterday. The President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, announced that he is cutting his country’s diplomatic ties with Colombia. Flanked by a visiting Argentine soccer figure, el comandante declared that his country might even go to war with its “brother nation.”
“We would go to war with Colombia weeping,” Chavez said. “But we would have to go.”
And why would el comandante attack Colombia? Because its outgoing president, Alvaro Uribe, has presented to the Organization of American States (OAS) pieces of evidence– including eyewitness accounts, photographs and maps– supposedly proving that Chavez is in fact coddling the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Outrageous, says Chavez. Uribe is doing this to spark war! He is setting up a fake FARC camp in one of the jungles of Venezuela and attack it to bring about war! Que barbaridad!
Well, to many a Chavez fan, these anti-Uribe rants would sound believable. The Colombian president, afterall, posseses an anti-FARC zeal so strong that it had once crossed the border to Ecuadorian territory. But to the sober fellow, Uribe attacking Venezuela in the last weeks of his presidency is a scenario as far-fetched as Mexico invading California. Indeed, even Chavez knows Uribe wouldn’t dare pull such a stunt, especially since Washington, the place from which Bogota is said to be ran by remote-control, now has a boss who, unlike that dumb cowboy from Texas, is not fond of confrontations.
The latest anti-Uribe sabre-rattling in Caracas is just an attempt by Chavez to consolidate his support base in the upcoming September parliamentary elections. His Socialist Party is reportedly facing unusual difficulties in the campaign, due mostly to rising criminality in Caracas, scandal over rotting food in government warehouses, and an economy that’s experiencung a bumpy ride. With Bush The Devil gone, Chavez now only has the soon-to-be has-been Uribe to rally his supporters against.
But why did Uribe suddenly decide to indict Chavez before the OAS? Why only now? This article from Time magazine suggests that Uribe’s primary target is actually not the Venezuelan president but his successor, President-elect Juan Manuel Santos. This might sound weird to those who had followed the recent Colombian elections. Santos had been loyal to Uribe; he had even openly supported the president’s unsuccesful attempt to change the Colombian constitution so he could get a third term. In turn, Uribe had endorsed and campaigned for Santos, who was his defense minister during his succesful crackdown against FARC and the drug cartel.
But after Santos won the presidency, he began moving to improve relations with Uribe’s archenemy in Caracas for pragmatic considerations. Colombia needs Venezuela’s market and oil, which for Santos are more important than his former boss’s personal and ideological grudges against Chavez. This aparently did not sit well with Uribe, hence his anti-Chavez blitzkrieg at the OAS. It would seem that the primary goal of Uribe’s anti-Chavez offensive are to embarass the incoming Santos administration (Uribe has called Santos’ reaching out to Chavez stupid) while the secondary goal is to put Chavez on the spot, forcing him to do a crackdown on the FARC to avoid being perceived by the region as a coddler of terrorists.
Uribe’s blitz might have succeeded in embarrasing Santos, but not in putting on the spot Chavez, who has found a way to put up a fantastic show out of the situation.