While Cooperation Between Colombia and Venezuela May Increase, Ideologies Remain Distant
Following an ambush in which 12 Colombian soldiers were killed on Monday, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela significantly reinforced security along the Venezuelan border. The ambush was carried out by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in a remote region of Colombia called La Guajira, which borders Northwest Venezuela. Colombian officials maintained that the rebels attacked from Venezuelan territory and then retreated back over the border following the deadly strike.
Since the countries reestablished diplomatic relations in mid-2010, cooperation between the bordering nations has increased dramatically. After being elected, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was careful to use a conciliatory tone from the start, which seems to have played a key role in easing tensions between the nations. However, it is also hard to imagine any Colombian President being more at odds with Chávez than former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Nonetheless, Venezuela is still avoiding taking any active role towards defeating the FARC. For one, in this case Venezuela has only closed its borders to the FARC, and seems to be doing little to coordinate efforts with Colombian forces in its own territory. Furthermore, Chávez already warned that an incursion by Colombian troops into Venezuelan territory, even in hot pursuit of FARC terrorists, could bring war (this proclamation was after an unsanctioned strike by Colombian armed forces approximately one mile inside Ecuadorian territory killed Raúl Reyes, a FARC leader. Chávez warned that a similar strike in Venezuelan territory would mean war). Therefore, rather than aiding Colombia to combat the FARC, Venezuela is actually just dumping the problem solely onto Colombia’s shoulders.
This is further illustrated by Chávez’s persistent refusal to take sides in the armed conflict between the Colombian Government and the FARC, which has engulfed the country for more than thirty years. For more than ten years, Chávez has insisted that Venezuela is neither an enemy of the Colombian Government nor of the FARC, and reiterated that point on Monday when he said that the “conflict is not ours. We defend peace and insist that our territory is not used by either side in the conflict.” While President Chávez claims to be defending Venezuela’s sovereignty by not taking sides, one can take sides through more than just military action, and certainly without compromising the nation’s safety or sovereignty.
The reasons for Chávez’s unwillingness to condemn the FARC are further disconcerting. Although at first glance it may seem that Chávez is hesitant to bring the wrath of the FARC on his own nation, that can hardly be a cause of concern for his government; in fact, several top FARC commanders have been detained in Venezuelan territory in this year alone without any repercussions for the nation. Besides, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are clearly operating to impact Colombia, not Venezuela. In any case, Venezuela does not need to take an active military stance to condemn a group which engages in terrorism, as the FARC did last week when it killed two and injured more than 40 during an assassination attempt in a busy Bogotá intersection.
A more likely explanation, though, is the ideological similarities which Chávez shares with the FARC. The FARC are a far-left Lenninist militant group, which considers itself anti-imperialist and inspired by Bolivar. Chávez, likewise, characterizes himself and his government as Bolivarian, and is staunchly anti-imperialist. The Colombian Government, on the other hand is slightly right of center and more closely aligned with the capitalist, and historically imperialist, United States Government. It is this ideological divide which keeps Colombia and Venezuela from closer collaboration to end the dangerous, terrorist, threat, the FARC.