Over the past several days, tensions have been flaring between the US, Venezuela and Bolivia, culminating in a mass expulsion of ambassadors and the near severance of diplomatic ties. Problems began last Wednesday in Bolivia, when protesters in the northern state of Pando began ransacking buildings and destroying natural gas resources; actions which threatened government stability and ultimately resulted in ten deaths. In response to the protests, president Evo Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, accusing him of supporting the dissidents and attempting to instigate government overthrow. The next day, in an act of solidarity, Venezuela followed suit: “President Chávez gave US ambassador Patrick Duddy 72 hours to leave Caracas, telling him: ‘Go to hell 100 times.'” On a lesser scale, Honduras decided to throw its hat in the ring, refusing the credentials of the incoming US ambassador. Finally, and to make matters worse, two Russian bomber planes are expected to arrive in Venezuela this week to participate in military exercises, further exacerbating US concerns about Venezuelan-Russian relations.
In retaliation to all this, Washington ejected Venezuela and Bolivia’s ambassadors yesterday, then releasing a statement accusing three high-ranking officials in the Chávez government of supporting the rebel FARC organization in Colombia.
From The Washington Post:
It was the first time the United States declared specific Venezuelan officials to be supporters of the FARC, but the designation stopped short of a more serious option debated in Washington in recent months: classifying Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a move could significantly affect the $50 billion in annual trade between the countries, potentially rendering Venezuela’s oil off limits to American markets.
The US has charged Venezuela with providing weapons to the FARC and abetting the Colombian drug trade, accusations corroborated by Colombian president Álvaro Uribe. While Chávez has publicly condemned the FARC, calling on it a thing of the past and demanding the release of its hostages, evidence found on a rebel computer last March revealed ties between Venezuela’s government and the Colombian rebels.
In May, Colombian officials provided The Washington Post with documents showing how Venezuelan officials appeared to have provided light arms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades to the FARC. The officials said that Venezuela also offered to help the guerrillas obtain surface-to-air missiles but that there was no evidence the guerrillas obtained such weapons. Interpol, the international police agency, studied the Reyes computer hard drives and concluded that the files containing the incriminating evidence had not been modified or falsified.
While breaking off diplomatic relations with Venezuela and Bolivia is a fairly drastic move, as The Washington Post has observed, it’s not yet the worst that can happen. With Chávez and Morales eager to completely cut off ties to Washington, the US must tread carefully and not permit this to happen. In many regards, Latin America’s far-left is providing the US with a situation reminiscent of its dealings with Islamic fundamentalist governments, in which the distance between aggression and diplomacy is short. (Additionally, with Russian bombers landing in Venezuela, the parallels between the Cold War don’t get much clearer). Given that the Bush administration has already managed to effectively alienate entire regions of the world, here’s to hoping he’ll finally take a hint from history and recent geopolitics and treat this situation with a bit more tact.
On an unrelated note, what’s the matter with Chile?