(by Patrick Goodenough, March 4, 2008, CNSNews.com) – In a bid to ease tensions with its leftist-ruled neighbors, Colombia’s government said Monday it would not send reinforcements to its borders with Venezuela and Ecuador and called for calm.
The U.S. government urged Colombia and Ecuador to resolve the dispute through diplomatic means and — in a message aimed at Venezuela’s anti-U.S. President Hugo Chavez — said other countries should not interfere.
Ecuador and Venezuela have ordered a mobilization of troops to their respective borders with Colombia — which lies between the two — following a Colombian military raid into Ecuadorian territory Saturday which killed a top leader of the communist rebel group, the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).
Eighteen FARC members were reportedly killed, including the group’s second-in-command, Raul Reyes.
Ecuador in response put its forces on alert, sent additional troops to the border, expelled the Colombian envoy and recalled its own ambassador from Bogota for consultations.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa also called for meetings of regional bodies, including the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) — Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru — to discuss the issue.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the U.S. was encouraging Colombia and Ecuador to resolve their differences through dialogue.
“I don’t really see that there is any particular role for any other country – certainly not a military role for them in this issue,” he said.
Chavez, a close ally of Correa, used his weekly radio and television program Sunday to order the mobilization of warplanes and the deployment of troops and tanks to his country’s border with Colombia. He also ordered its embassy closed.
Chavez railed against Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, calling him a criminal and a “lackey” of the United States. He also described Colombia as “the Israel of Latin America.”
FARC has been waging an armed campaign against the Colombian government for four decades. It is believed to hold some 700 hostages, including around 40 considered to be of high value in FARC’s efforts to get imprisoned members freed.
They include a French-Colombian politician, Ingrid Betancourt, who has been held for six years, and three U.S. contract workers, Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves, captured in early 2003.
FARC is considered a terrorist group by Colombia, the U.S. and the European Union, but Chavez has rejected the label.
The head of the Colombian Police, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, told a press conference Monday that information found on Reyes’ laptop computer indicated the existence of financial links between Chavez and FARC.
Earlier, Naranjo alleged that documents seized from the FARC camp revealed cooperation between the group and the Ecuadorian government.
Uribe has in the past alleged that FARC operates on the territory of both Ecuador and Venezuela.
Critics of Chavez say he is sympathetic to the group and note that FARC communiques have at times appeared on official Venezuelan media before they are even posted to the group’s own propaganda websites.
Chavez hailed Reyes, the dead FARC leader, as “a good revolutionary man.”
Colombia Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told the RCN radio station the country would not send reinforcements to its borders with Venezuela and Ecuador.
“We are not mobilizing troops to the border,” he was quoted as saying. “Some units may have moved, but this is part of mobilizations previously scheduled. Let us be calm, there is no reason to react otherwise.
“We do not believe it is necessary to make any moves,” Santos said. “The Colombian people may rest reassured, because at that front we are on the lookout and there is nothing to be afraid of.”
Colombia’s foreign ministry said in an earlier statement that it had not violated Ecuadorian sovereignty “but acted according to the principles of legitimate defense,” an argument rejected by Correa as “insufficient.”
Chavez’s anti-Colombian rhetoric follows a bitter diplomatic dispute with Uribe. Chavez had been acting as mediator between FARC and the Colombian government until Uribe last November terminated the effort, accusing Chavez of using the mediation to boost FARC and expand his own influence.
Fueled by Venezuela’s energy resources, Chavez has sought a regional leadership role, drawing left-wing governments into an alliance aimed at countering U.S. influence in the region. His Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) has won support from Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba.
(Leandro Prada in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.)
All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2008 Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. a) Name the capitals of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
b) Name the presidents of the countries listed in #1a.
2. a) Why have Ecuador and Venezuela ordered troops to their respective borders with Colombia?
b) How has the Colombian government reacted to these troop movements?
3. Why did Colombia order a raid into Ecuadorian territory?
4. What do you learn about FARC from this article?
5. In addition to sending troops to the border, what actions has Ecuador taken against Colombia?
6. During the raid on the FARC camp, what did Colombian police find that confirmed Colombian allegations that the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador support FARC?
7. How are U.S. officials reacting to the situation?
8. Name the countries that support Venezuelan president Chavez’s left-wing alliance ALBA, aimed at countering U.S. influence in the region.
Read commentaries on the Colombia/Ecuador/Venezuela situation at pajamasmedia.com/2008/03/chavezs_saberrattling.php
For a map of South America, go to WorldAtlas.com.
For background information on Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, go to the CIA World FactBook website here.