The Arenal Area Magazine

Colombian border conflict would reverberate here


The possibility is growing of an armed conflict at the Venezuelan-Colombian border. Such an event will have an economic impact on Costa Rica.

Government and private experts on the politics of the situation believe that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez needs tension to distract his public from an increasingly grim economic situation.

Chávez already has tried embracing the long-dead Liberator, Simón Bolívar, in part to cast blame on Colombia.

Thor Halvorssen, president of the Washington- based Human Rights Foundation, is one of those who expects the worst from Chávez. Despite the Nordic name, he has close ties to Venezuelans and is a Bolívar descendent. Halvorssen wrote another critique of the Venezuelan economic system that appeared Monday in The Huffington Post.

He said Chávez was using a potential conflict with Colombia to whip up nationalistic fervor. The most recent clash between Chávez and the Colombian government arose when Bogotá presented evidence to the Organization of American States that Venezuela was harboring 1,500 leftist Colombian rebels. The rebels, mainly of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia and the Ejercito de Liberación Nacional, have been driven from their homeland by the aggressive military efforts promoted by President Álvaro Uribe.

Chávez ordered army units to the Colombian border last week in a show of force.

Chávez has been dismembering opposing politician and non-governmental organizations for years. Only one television station remains in tenuous opposition. Many of his foes are political refugees. He has taken over many key aspects of the economy with less than success and established foreign exchange controls.

The Bolivarian Republic promoted by Chávez is based on the Cuban Communist model. Still, the country is a major supplier of petroleum to the United States.

The implications of a border war in Latin America are many for Costa Rica. Trouble anywhere in Latin America has a negative impact on tourism. Costa Rica uses petroleum from Venezuela and some industries here depend on Venezuelan raw materials.

Many military observers believe that the Venezuelan army is a paper tiger when compared to battle-hardened Colombian troops, even though Chávez has purchased millions in material from the Russian Republic. Still, Chávez has Iranian, Cuban and Nicaraguan allies, as well as the governments in Ecuador and Bolivia. A border clash would be an unwelcome spark in an unstable political situation.

The finances of the Fuerzas Armadas is based
Chavez on television set
Venezelan government photo
Chávez during one of his weekly TV discourses

primarily on drug smuggling and protecting local cartel operations. This may have been one reason that the Cuban news service Prensa Latina issued a distorted report when the Costa Rican legislature gave routine approval for U.S ships on drug patrol to dock at local ports, mostly for shore leave.

The approval listed all the 46 U.S. ships that have even the remotest chance of visiting Costa Rica, so Prensa Latina suggested a U.S. invasion or base here. That false claim found quick acceptance in leftist publications and online outlets in the United States. Expats in Costa Rica have yet to see any of the 7,000 U.S. Marines that Prensa Latina promised. But leftists in the legislature have appealed the approval to the Sala IV constitutional court.

Some see the shrilled response by Chávez and his allies to the expulsion of José Manuel Zelaya from Honduras June 28, 2009, as related partly to the drug trade. Honduras had become wide open to key illegal sea and air transport routes.

The Colombian border situation is likely to result in small-scale armed conflicts. Armed men on each side are likely to operate independent of their government’s orders, and the 1,500 rebel fighters are another factor.

If a conflict does break out, the oil production is jeopardized. Maracaibo and major production areas are a short distance from the border and fat targets.

Uribe’s defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, will soon take over the presidency. Uribe cannot serve more than two terms. Chávez and his advisers might be counting on the change in government to gain a tactical advantage.

Chávez has been linked to the leftist Colombian rebels before, when troops under the direct command of Santos raided an Ecuadorian rebel camp, and killed 20 persons, including rebel leader Raúl Reyes. The portable computer of Reyes yielded information that said Chávez had bankrolled the rebels. Venezuela denied this and condemned the attack.

Chávez had the body of The Liberator exhumed last month. He is seeking to show that Colombian leaders poisoned Bolívar in 1830.

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