Thursday, March 06, 2008

Colombia Surrounded by Terrorist Clown States

The Economist has its usual lucid comprehensive analysis of why Fat Hugo is revving up the air raid sirens. The potlatch clientele of this pumped-up caudillo with megabucks is echoing his bleats as he tries to pre-empt the fact that he is supporting the terrorist FARC with all sorts of subventions. But the colonelissimo is thwarted by the dauntless policies of the Colombian president:
Mr Uribe's “democratic security” policy has achieved a dramatic change. By expanding the security forces, he has driven the FARC from populated areas, while persuading most of the paramilitaries to demobilise. Officials reckon they have reduced the FARC's ranks to fewer than 11,000.

The FARC is demoralized and the canaille racaille mini-Hugos barking at Uribe's heels [including the kleptocratic narco-state Mexico] only serve to point out the contrast between terrorist-coddling Ecuador/Venezuela/Argentina and civilized polities like Chile and Colombia. But the most important victory was data:
Almost as important as the killing of Mr Reyes may be the capture of his laptops. Apart from inside information on the FARC, according to Colombian officials, they contain documents which—if true—are embarrassing to Mr Correa but highly damaging to Mr Chávez. As the FARC's top negotiator, Mr Reyes appears to have met representatives of many governments. According to one e-mail, he met Gustavo Larrea, Mr Correa's security minister last month. Mr Larrea is alleged to have proposed a formal meeting in Quito to discuss securing the border and negotiating the release of some of the FARC's 700-odd hostages. Mr Larrea said that Colombian officials knew of his meeting, which was purely to talk about the hostages. ...Another document allegedly on Mr Reyes's computer showed that Mr Chávez paid (or planned to pay) the FARC $300m. An (unrelated) e-mail to Mr Reyes suggested that the FARC were trying to obtain uranium for a “dirty bomb”. All this prompted some far-fetched exchanges. Mr Uribe said that he would denounce Mr Chávez for “financing genocide”; in return, Venezuela accused Colombia's police chief, who revealed the contents of Mr Reyes's laptop, of being a “drug trafficker”.

So all the sound and fury will probably subside with Colombia's rep up a notch and the silly Ven Prez and his potlatch allies looking even sillier. The real game?
So what is Mr Chávez's game? One possible answer is his obsessive search for an external enemy to shore up his waning popularity at home. In December, his political blueprint for a socialist Venezuela, with indefinite presidential re-election, was defeated in a referendum. This came only a year after he won a second six-year term with 63% of the vote, and was the first time he had lost a national vote.

In November Venezuelans are due to vote for mayors and state governors. They are increasingly discontented about crime, an inflation rate that has surged to 25% and shortages of basic goods, including food and cooking gas. Because of Mr Chávez's mismanagement of agriculture, Venezuela imports much of its food from Colombia. Any lasting interruption of trade would hurt both countries (see chart). Reputable pollsters say that Mr Chávez's popularity has fallen well below 50%. Visible faction fights have broken out in his newly formed Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Picking a fight with Colombia and supporting the FARC are unlikely to win him friends. One poll, by Hinterlaces, showed 89% opposed to a war and 87% opposed to the FARC. So the reason for his military mobilisation may be to deter Colombia from moving against the FARC camps in Venezuela where some Colombian officials believe that Mr Marulanda is based. A more worrying, though improbable, hypothesis is that Mr Chávez, a former army officer, is throwing off all pretence at being a civilian democrat and, fearing that he may not remain in power for long, wants to launch an assault on what he sees as American imperialism and its regional stooge, Mr Uribe.

But the thrashing and flailing of the increasingly unstable Hugo may indicate that his grandiosity is making the transition to megalomania---even as his house of cards begins to collapse around him.
Although George Bush gave public support to Mr Uribe, other governments in the region, led by Brazil, tried to drive a wedge between Mr Correa and Mr Chávez. There were signs that this might work. On March 5th Ecuador agreed to an OAS resolution criticising but not formally condemning Colombia. The OAS also agreed to investigate the bombing. Once the region's diplomats have patched things up between these two countries they face another, more intractable problem: Mr Chávez, still with oil money but politically on the defensive, may have thrown in his lot with an outlaw army of drug-traffickers.

So as Castro exits stage-left, his chubby protege may also be making an early unplanned exit.

AFTERTHOUGHT:[As a digression, today's Sun-Sentinel Sports Page speculated that golf courses might make a reappearance in Cuba after Castro banned them---famously losing a golf match to Che Guevara and in a typical megolomaniac tantrum, closing all four golf courses in Cuba. This life-long loo-zer was especially bad when news of the loss was publicized. The sports writer was fired and the newspaper closed soon thereafter. That beard probably hurt his swing, and his temperament is hardly suitable for a game requiring focus and concentration.]

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