06 March, 2008

Ecuador, hostages & Columbian bodysnatchers

a collection of news & commentary links, but first a reminder from James Petras, writing in 2005 after Venezuela confronted Columbia over its covert recruitment of Venezuelan military figures in the kidnapping of a Columbian leftist leader:

Once direct Colombian involvement was established . . . [the] Colombian regime took the offensive, launching an aggressive defense of its involvement in the violation of Venezuelan sovereignty and, beyond that, seeking to establish in advance, under the rationale of "national security" the legitimacy of future acts of aggression. . . . In response the US Government gave unconditional support to Colombian violation of Venezuelan sovereignty and urged the Uribe regime to push the conflict further. What began as a diplomatic conflict over a specific incident has turned into a major, defining crises in US and Latin American political relations with potentially explosive military, economic and political consequences for the entire region.

In justifying the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, the Colombian leftist leader, the Uribe regime has promulgated a new foreign policy doctrine which echoes that of the Bush Administration: the right of unilateral intervention in any country in which the Colombian government perceives or claims is harboring or providing refuge to political adversaries (which the regime labels as "terrorists") which might threaten the security of the state.

. . .

Uribe's offensive military doctrine involves several major policy propositions:

1.) The right to violate any country's sovereignty, including the use of force and violence, directly or in cooperation with local mercenaries.

2.) The right to recruit and subvert military and security officials to serve the interests of the Colombian state.

3.) The right to allocate funds to bounty hunters or "third parties" to engage in illegal violent acts within a target country.

4.) The assertion of the supremacy of Colombian laws, decrees and policies over and against the sovereign laws of the intervened country.

The Uribe doctrine clearly echoes Washington's global pronouncements. While the immediate point of aggression involves Colombia's relations to Venezuela, the Uribe doctrine lays the basis for unilateral military intervention anywhere in the hemisphere. Uribe's doctrine is a threat to sovereignty of any country in the hemisphere: its intervention in Venezuela and the justification provides a precedent for future aggression. link

Prescient, eh? Meanwhile,

BOGOTA, Mar 3 (IPS) - European envoys met over the weekend with members of the FARC rebel group’s central leadership to discuss how to move ahead in the efforts to negotiate a humanitarian exchange aimed at securing the release of Ingrid Betancourt and the rest of the hostages held in the jungle by the guerrillas.

"The negotiations are alive. Nothing has changed. Or everything has changed, except the negotiations," a European source told IPS, on condition of anonymity. link

Heinz Dieterich, a Mexico-based German sociologist and economist "who coined the phrase 21st century socialism":

I believe Bogotá and its ally, Washington, made a serious political mistake and underestimated the cost of this action. They did not take into consideration the media reaction, the position that Chávez would take, and the firm stance that Correa would assume in Quito.

I would say that this mistake will benefit the South American integration aims of progressive countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela.

IPS: What can be expected now from the sectors that are calling for a negotiated solution to Colombia’s armed conflict?

HD: In general terms, the situation strengthens the forces that want a negotiated solution, in Europe, Latin America and Colombia itself. We must not forget that Reyes was the middleman through whom France was negotiating in its attempt to secure the release by the FARC of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt (the highest profile hostage held by the guerrillas).

They killed the French government’s contact, and this has clearly led the countries of Latin America and many European nations to believe that this question can no longer be left solely in the hands of Uribe and Washington, whose war strategy has become a potential threat to regional peace and stability. link

"war strategy?" Plan Columbia.

Colombian officials later told reporters that U.S.-provided spying equipment and intelligence assistance had helped them track Reyes and guide them to the site, although officials here declined to comment on those reports.

U.S. diplomats "know they have very little credibility as a broker in this situation," said Michael Shifter, an Andes expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a prominent think tank here.

"The U.S. is completely aligned with Colombia, and it's pretty widely believed that it helped with intelligence and provided technical support to help pinpoint the target, although I don't think there is any evidence that (the raid itself) was a U.S. decision." link

[As if there were any question that this operation, likely involving NSA assistance, was approved by Washington.]

According to the Colombian TV newscast Noticias Uno, Reyes had already been designated as the target of a military operation back in December.

His satellite phone was located "in late 2007." Although he almost always kept it turned off, every time he switched it on, even briefly, its coordinates were detected via satellite.

On Feb. 21, Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos and armed forces chief General Freddy Padilla reported that the government had located the site where the four hostages to be released were being held.

Both Santos and Padilla said one of the hostages, Jorge Eduardo Gechem, was seriously ill and offered safety guarantees for the FARC to hand him over immediately.

According to Noticias Uno, which based its report on official sources, the report was a ploy to force Reyes to use his satellite phone again, which he did, enabling the Colombian military to pinpoint his location. [Robert Knight mentioned last night, on Flashpoints Radio (Wed 3/5/08) that gps tracking devices in newer cellophones continue to work & be accessible to law enforcement, even though the user thinks it is disabled.]

Another phone call made by Reyes indicated that he would be at a specific spot on Feb. 29, Noticias Uno reported. The government added that it also obtained information from two individuals, in exchange for large rewards. link

In other words, the US signed off on & assisted a plan to sabotage hostage negotiations (involving our allies) by assassinating the rebels' most prominent contact with the outside world as a pre-emptive propaganda ploy.

Last night, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that if Farc released Betancourt, feared to be gravely ill after six years as a hostage, some countries could be persuaded to stop designating the group as terrorists.

"If they let Ingrid Betancourt die, of course, there will be no discussion about that," Sarkozy told Colombia's RCN television. "If they free Ingrid Betancourt, maybe some place in the world will see them a little differently." link

No. Bring on the bombs.

Obama Statement on Recent Events near Colombia’s Borders - March 03, 2008

“The Colombian people have suffered for more than four decades at the hands of a brutal terrorist insurgency, and the Colombian government has every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region. The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors.”

Statement from Hillary Clinton - 3/3/2008

“Hugo Chavez’s order yesterday to send ten battalions to the Colombian border is unwarranted and dangerous. The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. By praising and supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Chavez is openly siding with terrorists that threaten Colombian democracy and the peace and security of the region. Rather than criticizing Colombia’s actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups. After reviewing this situation, I am hopeful that the government of Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in closer cooperation with Colombia on this issue. Hugo Chavez must call a halt to this provocative action. As president, I will work with our partners in the region and the OAS to support democracy, promote an end to conflict, and to press Chavez to change course.” link

Violation of sovereignty? Policy of assassination across borders? Bombing one's neighbors? Gruesome public exhibition of the bodies? Not a word of complaint. Just a tired old phrase.

. . . every right to defend itself

Heard that somewhere before.

Claims by the Colombian government to have acted in self-defense have been refuted by survivor testimonies and Ecuadorian government investigations which reveal evidence that it was a pre-planned "massacre" of a sleeping encampment.

On top of that, reports that U.S. Admiral Joseph Nimmich met with Colombian military leaders in Bogotá two days before Saturday`s attacks with the stated purpose of "sharing vital information in the fight against terrorism" have fueled suspicions of direct U.S. involvement in invasion.

Along the same vein, the international Spanish language news agency EFE and The Guardian report the use of cluster bombs in Saturday`s attacks, weapons which have been denounced by human rights organizations. link

Not something likely to be read in a US newspaper.
While some press in the United States question whether Chavez is using this situation as an opportunity to distract Venezuelans from their social problems, this excessive focus on him is in fact distracting people in the US from having a much needed dialogue on their own governments' role in fomenting this so-called "Andean Crisis". As a result, the tough realities and repercussions from the US government's support for a military solution in Colombia are being overlooked.

Emboldened and armed with the multibillion dollar support of Plan Colombia, the Uribe government has decided to violate international law rather than attempting mediated discussions with the FARC..

Why now? Peace, stability & regional unity outside US control are perceived to be a threat to its "interests." Senator Cristovam Buarque, a member of Brazil's Senate Foreign Relations Committee, believes that:

An armed conflict, even one of limited scope "lasting a single day and with as few as two soldiers killed, would leave a permanent blot" on South American relations, and would completely undermine the regional integration process . . . link

Further regionalizing Columbia's conflict looks like a desperate attempt to slow or derail current efforts under way both within and outside of Columbia that have been gathering steam. Commentators James J. Brittain and R. James Sacouman write that:

A few weeks after the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan state called on the Colombian government to respect the need for peace and negotiation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP), the administration of Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010) supported an extensive armed air and land assault against the insurgency movement--not within Colombia's borders but rather on the sovereign territory of Ecuadorian soil.

. . .

The actions of Saturday 1 March took place days before a major international demonstration scheduled for 6 March, 2008. Promoted by The National Movement of Victims of State-Sponsored Crimes (MOVICE), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and countless social justice-based organizations, March 6th has been set as an international day of protest against those tortured, murdered, and disappeared by the Colombian state, their allies within the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the newly reformed Black Eagles. Recently, President Uribe's top political adviser, José Obdulio Gaviria, proclaimed that the protest and protesters should be criminalized. In addition, paramilitaries in the southwestern department of Nariño (not far from where the illegal incursions were carried out in Ecuador), have threatened to attack any organization or person associated with the activities scheduled for Thursday.

It is believed that the Uribe and Santos administration is utilizing the slaughter of Comandante Raúl Reyes and others as a method to deter activists and socially conscious peoples within and outside Colombia from participating in the March 6th events. Numerous state-controlled or connected media outlets, such as El Tiempo (which has long-standing ties to the Santos family), have been parading photographs of the bullet ridden and mutilated corpse of Raúl Reyes throughout the country's communications mediums. Such propaganda is clearly a tool to psychologically intimidate those preparing to demonstrate against the atrocities perpetrated by the state over the past seven years.

Over the past two months, numerous researchers, scholars, and lawyers have supported the call to declare the FARC-EP a legitimate force fighting against the corrupt Colombian state. In January 2008, Ecuador's Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador argued that the FARC-EP should no longer be depicted as a terrorist organization. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez too announced that the FARC-EP are far from a terrorist force but are rather a real army, which occupies Colombian territory and shares in a Bolivarian vision for a new Latin America. Mexican deputy Ricardo Cantu Garza also has promoted the recognition of the FARC-EP as a belligerent force legitimately fighting against a corrupt and unequal sociopolitical system.

. . .

From Copenhagen to Caracas, numerous state officials have denounced the description of the FARC-EP as a terrorist organization. Progressive officials and administrations in Mexico, Ecuador, and Venezuela have rather opted for the status of belligerent or irregular forces to more accurately depict the FARC-EP domestic and geo-political stance. Disturbingly, in the face of this evidence and the FARC-EP's consistent promotion for a humanitarian prisoner exchange and peace negotiations with the state in a demilitarized zone in southwestern Colombia, the Uribe and Santos administration has moved ever farther away from supporting an end to the civil war within Colombia by opting for systemic violence.

Brazil can help itself here as it is taking a prominent role at the OAS discussions to de-escalate the situation. Clifton Ross, in an article last September, focuses on Ecuador's ties to Brazil and its role in the greater region. Napoleon Saltos Galazara, a writer/activist/politician from Ecuador's indigenous social movements, mentions that:

"[President Correa] says, 'we're going to confront imperialism and the oligarchy; we're going to take on the right wing, down with partyocracy!' And he won the election. However, even though Correa confronts this sector, he's allied with the second axis, the Manta-Manaus axis, or the China-Brazil, East-West axis."

Ross talks about the on-going complex jockeying for position in Latin America which is largely invisible to the US public:

This division between Brazil and Venezuela was best symbolized by the brand of energy each country promotes, ethanol and petroleum, respectively, but there is much more to the story than what goes into the gas tank of a car. And Ecuador may be the key chess piece in the regional Great Game. Among others, Ecuadoran writer Kintto Lucas in his book on recent Ecuadoran history, "Un pais entrampado," sees Ecuador as an integral part of Brazil's aspiration to carve a path to the Pacific, using what is called the "Manaos-Manta multi-modal corridor."

. . .

The U.S., in its National Security Strategy of September 17, 2002, proposed to prevent any possible players from challenging its supremacy, stating that "America (sic) will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed." On the American continent it hoped to contain such "emerging threats" as Brazil by means of walling it in along the Pacific by means of "free trade" agreements with Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. The 2006 election of Correa to the Presidency of Ecuador just as the nation considered such a treaty changed all that. Since that time, Ecuador has effectively broken the US-imposed barrier to the Pacific and now clears the way for the Brazilian dreams of empire, or at the very least, the further strengthening of a great regional power.

Nevertheless, the struggle to contain Brazil continues to be part of the greater problem of constructing a regional unity that will enable the southern nations to contend with their more immediate concern, and that is the still-present threat of the U.S. empire. Ecuador's current strategy seems to be to build alliances with Venezuela, Brazil and whatever other potential allies may offer to consolidate a block of power against U.S. hegemony.

Tomás Peribonio, ex-Minister of Foreign Trade under President Alfred Palacio, is now working as a contractor for the current Correa government designing the Manaos-Manta multi-modal corridor. . . . he emphasizes that "the most important thing is regional unity." The construction of this multi-modal corridor, he describes as a "mega-project" that would be constructed "over the course of years and perhaps even decades." The aim, he says, is to unite "Pacific Asia, which, from my point of view, is the area of major world commerce, managing about fifty percent of world trade" with the Atlantic, specifically Brazil, which is increasing its cultivation of soy and other grains with an eye on exports.

For Peribonio regional integration begins at home, with Ecuador, a country that commonly characterizes itself as the "nation of four regions," which are the Amazon, the mountains, the plains and coast, and the Galapagos. These regions have experienced strong tensions and this fact has often been posed as a primary problem confronting national leaders as they attempted to unite the country. This multi-modal corridor, Peribonio hopes, will serve to first unite the country and then go on to unite Ecuador with Peru and Brazil, since the corridor would also go through Peru. Finally, says Peribonio, the corridor would integrate Ecuador more firmly into the world economy.

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Blogger Don Durito said...

I'll try to have something a bit more intelligent to offer later. For now I just want to say that it's good to see you back! Does this mean we'll see more content in the near future? Pretty please?

9:17 PM  
Blogger Arcturus said...

Thanks James. Future's hard to see, but I may start posting irregularly again.

btw, after this went up, Counterpunch published another good piece, this one by Forrest Hylton, titled "High Stakes in the Andes":


10:44 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

ditto what james said, you're always missed!

3:43 PM  

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