On Friday, July 11, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will meet
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in Caracas. The meeting
will allow Chavez to put a smiley face on relations with
neighboring Colombia. There will be abrazos-few since
Chairman Khrushchev have doled out the hugs like Hugo. Both
Chávez and Uribe will, presumably without their noses
growing, speak of good relations between their nations.
Yet, behind this façade of Andean affection lies a heavy
dose of diplomatic amnesia. Barely four months ago, the
Colombians-operating just across the Ecuadorian border-eliminated
Raul Reyes, second in command of the Revolutionary Armed Force of
Colombia (FARC). In the days following Reyes's death, President
Chávez commanded his generals to dispatch tanks and troops
to the border with Colombia.
Subsequently, Chávez, along with Presidents Correa of
Ecuador and Ortega of Nicaragua, moved to sever relations with
Colombia, seeking to transform Bogotá into an international
pariah. Appearing before the Latin American presidents at the Rio
Group in early March, a dignified but humbled President Uribe had
little choice but to pledge not to attack the FARC when it sought
sanctuary in safe havens outside of Colombia.
In response to President Uribe's concessions, Chávez
personally excoriated the Colombian leader as "mafia" and a lapdog
of U.S. imperialism. He praised Reyes as a good revolutionary and
romanticized the FARC as cutting-edge, Bolivarian insurgents keen
on driving Uribe and the U.S. out of Colombia. Suddenly, Uribe's
terrorists were reinvented as Chavez's freedom fighters.
How quickly things can change.
Keeping the FARC in Check.
"Operation Checkmate," the brilliantly executed July 2
rescue of 15 hostages-including high-profile captive Ingrid
Betancourt, three American citizens, and 11 soldiers and police-was
a brilliant triumph of intelligence, coordination, and deception.
The audacious rescue casts an entirely different light on President
Uribe, the Colombian government, and the FARC. Most Colombians
reacted as if their nation had just won the World Cup, and Uribe
now enjoys above 90 percent approval rating.
The only losers in this geopolitical chess move were the FARC
and a handful of Colombian politicians-such as Senator Piedad
Cordoba-whose reputations were scorched by too close an association
with the FARC. The Colombian government has made it clear that the
heartless jailors of the Americans and Ms. Betancourt are on the
fast track for extradition to the U.S.
The events of the past few months have left the FARC reeling.
The deaths of three of the FARC's leadership-including guerrilla
legend Manuel Marulanda, aka "Sureshot"-has left the organization
partially decapitated. The group is harried and hounded by an
aggressive, increasingly confident Colombian military. Deprived of
safe havens and logistical support, the FARC now slinks toward the
borders. Cash to buy bullets and coca paste are increasingly in
As a result, is it any surprise over 2,000 FARC fighters
deserted in 2007? After all, the FARC's new intellectual leader,
Alfonso Cano, and its ruthless war strategist "Mono Jojoy" must
literally run through the Colombian jungle to survive.
Fork in the Road.
The FARC is also isolated from political support, with
approximately 97 percent of Colombians opposing the organization.
The capture of computers belonging to Raul Reyes, whose contents
were authenticated by Interpol, was akin to lifting a large boulder
and exposing the slimy earth below; foreign support for the FARC
was thrust into the harsh glare of international scrutiny.
Incapable of dealing a lethal military blow against the Uribe
government, the FARC has reached the proverbial fork in the road.
It can either resort to random but bloody terrorism-the Colombian
military has recently discovered several caches of explosives-or it
can look for an end-game scenario. For instance, the FARC can
release the additional 700 hostages it holds and enter into serious
peace talks, leading ultimately to a laying down of arms and a
return to civilian life.
President Chávez's change of heart in June-when he said
the day of the guerrilla was over in Latin America-has not passed
unnoticed. While not of the Saul on the Road to Damascus variety,
Chávez's conversion certainly indicates a shift of political
The Fat Lady Is Warming Up.
Regardless of his motives, Chávez has an opportunity to
cease being the problem and become part of the solution by
expelling the two senior FARC leaders who move freely throughout
Venezuela. Quietly, Chávez can remove the welcome mat
previously extended to FARC fighters and cease providing logistical
With slumping approval ratings, rising inflation and crime, and
food shortages, Chávez must tend to the home fires. He can
practice the non-interventionism he preaches and strengthen
legitimate commercial ties with Colombia, which is increasingly a
supplier of agricultural products to his poorly managed and
The Organization of American States-which recently urged the
FARC to release its hostages and begin taking the path to peace-as
well as the new Union of South American States (UNASUR) can help.
Peace in Colombia and an end of the FARC as a criminal-terrorist
army can be a beneficial situation for all of Latin America.
As for the U.S., robust funding for Plan Colombia and
passage of the free trade deal with Colombia legislation are
While the fat lady has not yet begun to sing, she may be warming
up in a dressing room somewhere in Caracas.
Ray Walser, Ph.D.,
is Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Douglas and Sarah
Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.