Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Opinion: "No FARC in Venezuela" - Santos

I just read over a news piece on the BBC website; it seems Juan Manuel Santos has reinforced the formative bridge between Colombia and Venezuela by congratulating Chávez and the state for upholding their promise in the fight against the left-wing guerrillas.

A few thoughts:

Are the FARC really waning?  It seems as though the offensive initiated by Uribe may actually be improving Colombia's internal security situation.  As someone who is a staunch believer in population-centric counterinsurgency (COIN), this is in some ways surprising, but also very interesting.  Colombia's struggle with the FARC is, of course, different from COIN as we conceive of it in, say, Afghanistan, or even Iraq.  But I am still intrigued by the relative success of a conventional military approach in Colombia.  Can this set a precedent for future COIN efforts?  Will hawks in Washington be able to sit back and throw piles of cash (without sending in ground troops) at irregular conflicts across the globe, provided the target country's necessary institutions are in a relatively healthy state (government, security forces, development agencies, judicial system etc)?  It's interesting to say the least, particularly in a post-heroic era where the general public seems reluctant to support far-away wars and tolerance for casualties is thin.

Is Chávez really cooperating?  Can the perceived absence of FARC camps in Venezuela's borders be taken as hard evidence that Chávez is on board, fighting left-wing guerrillas?  Seems surprising.  I wouldn't suggest that Chávez is so clouded by his ideological underpinnings that he would be willing to break relations with Colombia once more by overtly support the FARC.  But a full partner in the fight against it?  Perhaps the answer to the question above - that is, whether the FARC is actually on the decline - helps to draw some light here.  Perhaps the FARC really is on its last legs; perhaps this explains its current absence.

With Colombia and Venezuela getting cosy, what does this mean for the US?  We've moved on from the days of Bush, Uribe and Chávez.  Unfortunately (if you are inclined toward the 'right' at least), Chávez is the only survivor from this contingent.  Bush has been replaced by Obama who, despite his recent tour of Latin America, seems less interested in engaging with Colombia (or at least views it differently from Bush who had his security lenses firmly in place post 9/11).  Uribe has been replaced by Santos who continues to melt away the layers of ice that had built up across the border with Chávez by reintegrating Colombia in the neighbourhood, somewhat at the expense of its close alliance with the US.  And so, with kidnappings and violence sharply down in Colombia after many years of US support, is the opportunity for investment now set to swing out of Washington's favour?  Will the cosying of the relationship between Colombia and Venezuela draw Bogotá into Venezuela's sphere of influence, say, toward the anti-market energy cartels proposed by Chávez?  It seems inevitable that bilateral trade between Colombia and Venezuela will once again become a focal point of their respective foreign policies (and that is a good thing since both countries rely heavily upon it), but would wider initiatives in the mould of Petrocaribe or Petrosur mean that the US is losing Colombia?

Of course, this is, as they say, conjecture.  But it certainly makes for some interesting thoughts...

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