Monday, March 03, 2008

Revolution Is Not In The Air

So, I guess I should acknowledge the big news here in Bogota - Colombia and Venezuela have decided that this is the right week to poke each other in the eye to see what the other one will do. I don’t think the presence of 3 additional gringos from Illinois is what has tipped the balance, but it did start the day we arrived, so I guess I shouldn’t make assumptions.

Last Saturday Colombian military forces entered Ecuadorian territory (to its south) and killed a Colombian FARC guerilla leader and a bunch of his men. The encroachment angered not just Ecuador, but Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, which borders Colombia to the north. Chavez and Colombian President Juan Uribe can’t stand each other because one wants to be Fidel Castro and the other wants to be George W. Bush, and it doesn’t take much to get them riled up.

So, Chavez decided to mass troops on the Colombian border and threaten war yesterday. Despite his saber-rattling, it seems unlikely that he is crazy enough to start a war with Colombia. “It would be a very short war” is what one person told an MCC worker here, given that the US has been wanting to install a new government in Venezuela since roughly January of 2001, and even tried a CIA insurrection to accomplish it in 2003, which most Americans have forgotten about. There's no way Bush would pass up an opportunity like that.

What I learned at Justapaz today is that the FARC actually negotiates through Chavez. Some background is in order: The FARC started out as a perfectly respectable communist insurgent group, who wanted to rain flowers and sunshine down on everyone. However, after 40 years of not succeeding, they have lost their popular legitimacy by engaging in such unpopular activities as selling drugs and kidnapping people to finance themselves, as well as murdering people who talk to the army and other human rights abuses. That’s what happens when you lose sight of your core values. The paramilitary may be far worse, but their core values are to protect the powerful and wealthy from the masses, and they have at least been consistent about that.

Nonetheless, Chavez likes them because they are a burr in the side of Uribe. Another tidbit from our MCC rep is that Chavez would like to see himself as the one who ends the conflict in Colombia, by brokering a peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC (who are in bad shape, and probably want a negotiated settlement). Uribe’s solution to the FARC is to try to kill them all, and doesn’t negotiate with them. However, it is not as easy to ignore the president of a neighboring country, so it becomes an international relations issue if the FARC uses Chavez as their negotiator.

Although Chavez’ revolutionary and anti-American rhetoric is popular in most of Latin America, he doesn’t get much support in Colombia. It might be because Colombia has already killed everyone who might have been interested, or would currently harass or kill anyone who publicly says they are interested, but it also might be that Colombians are tired of violence and patriotic enough to rally behind their leader when a neighboring country threatens it.

I’ve been a Colombia expert for all of 10 minutes now, so take all this with a grain of salt. The upshot is that I am in Bogota, and don’t feel particularly unsafe about being here, or that Chavez is peeing on the border up north. Maybe I’m just being na├»ve and uninformed, but at least I’m not stressed out. We are certainly being careful and taking all the precautions our hosts have drilled into us. But I can say that war fever has not swept the streets of Bogota, as far as I can tell. If it does, I promise to blog about it immediately.


Rebecca said...

I'm very glad to hear this.

Tim said...

On my way home from the airport after I dropped you off, I heard on NPR that the FARC leader was killed.

Maybe I've been too influenced by Hollywood, but this is exactly how a movie about my brother being kidnapped in Colombia would start. It would end with this mild-mannered librarian going to Colombia to kick some drug-cartel ass.

Since I'm getting over a cold/flu, I'd rather not have to do that. So stay safe.

And don't piss on any dangerous Colombians.

Dan S said...

I see myself as Ben Afflect, and you as Matt Damon. Or maybe myself as Matt Damon, and you as Jimmy Kimmel.

But don't worry. As a rule, I try not to piss on anyone when in foreign countries.

PG said...

I don't know why it took me so long to look at your blog and follow the progress of this expedition. I have to say that I hope you continue to post regularly, since I am there with you in spirit and memory. I'm sure I stayed in that same hotel without a shower head and worshiped in that same church. When the FARC hubbub broke out, I just imagined it was concocted by Bush as a terror prelude to the election. Is this going to impede your planned visit to the US Embassy? Anyway, keep posting and God bless. Hello to Wilmer and Ken, too. PG

Dan S said...

We are still planning on an embassy visit next Tuesday. We'll see how things develop during then. I think it will be interesting to see what the sister folks think about all this.