Photo Jonathan Blair

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Venezuela on the war path?

This, from a friend of mine currently unable to publish on this blog: "I'm starting to wonder how long it will be until the Venezuelans have another 'accident' like the one that bombed a dredging unit in Guyanesse waters. The diversionary theory of war is looking more and more applicable."

Well, at the very least, Hugo Chavez seems to be looking for a way to divert Venezuelans' attention from inflation, corruption, shortages of basic goods, power outages and especially violent crime. His main theme is obviously Colombia, whom he accuses now of using unmanned drones to attack Venezuela. This accusation, moreover, is only a tiny bit of his big campaign against the military agreement between Colombia and the US that will enable American aircraft to use Colombian airbases as part of their support for that country's war against the FARC and narco-traffickers.

Now, the way in which the US has managed this file is worse than incompetent, like much of their policy towards the region under Obama -Honduras is the other prominent example. However, the idea that Colombia, which is just now --for the first time in its history-- getting close to controlling its own territory, would be looking for a war with Venezuela, is preposterous. What has to be on Uribe's mind, however, is the support that the FARC --which now has allied with the ELN, the other Colombian guerrilla movement-- is getting from its neighbours, Ecuador and Venezuela. That thesis was recently bolstered by a report from an unlikely source: the Commission named by Ecuador President Rafael Correa, to investigate the circumstances surrounding Colombia's attack on a FARC base on Ecuadorian soil. The report shows clearly that Ecuadorian officials and organizations linked to Venezuela were indeed collaborating with the FARC and meeting its representatives in Ecuador. No mention is made of weapons' provision or direct financial support, but there is enough in that report for Colombia to claim that its neighbours are supporting the guerrilla. Nobody in the region and few countries in the world would accept that as a legitimate excuse for Colombia's to engage in hit-and-run operations in either country, but this may not be enough for the Colombian government who, with massive public support, now appear to be moving for the kill. Such operations, however, could clearly be enough for Venezuela to take the confrontation to a higher level. This would be a high risk gamble, however, and one unlikely to get much support from Brazil and friends in the region (but that's another story).

Chavez, however, is not stopping there. He has also accused the Netherlands (yes!) of planning an aggression against his country. In his own words (though in my translation): "I am accusing the Netherlands, along with the Yankee Empire, of planning an attack against Venezuela." He has in mind the presence of 250 US naval personal in Dutch autonomous islands Aruba and Curação, from where they work on drug interdiction in the Caribbean. Both islands, by the way, are in Venezuela's territorial water.

The problem, in sum, is that if Chavez is looking for trouble, he won't have a hard time finding it: Colombia is indeed aggressively present in border areas, so is the US -both in Colombia and the Caribbean. Moreover, and in spite of the formal archiving of the country's claim over more than half of Guyana's territory, that old claim would be easy enough to resuscitate, for the greatest pleasure of Venezuela's ultra-nationalist circles.

The truly sad thing is that Venezuelans already have enough problems on their plate. It is not surprising in fact that most, according to recent polls [Globe and Mail, Dec. 22: A-13], are utterly uninterested in a war with Colombia, which is the most likely diversionary scenario. Still, would that stop a Chavez who is getting deeper in a hole of his own doing from "jumping"? It's not clear to me. Let's just hope my friend is wrong...