Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa appears to be keen for a war with Colombia.
Correa broke relations with Colombia one year ago after FARC’s No.2 leader Raul Reyes was killed by a Colombian air strike against a longtime FARC base camp in Ecuador’s territory near the border with Colombia.
Computers seized by Colombian troops in the bombed-out FARC camp contained a treasure trove on intelligence which confirmed both the Correa and Chavez governments were actively supporting and cooperating with the FARC.
Chavez threatened war against Colombia when Reyes was killed, but the storm passed and for now, at least, relations between Caracas and Bogota appear to be relatively stable.
But Ecuador’s relations with Colombia have remained viscerally hostile, and it’s not just the Correa government but many ordinary Ecuadoreans too, particularly in Ecuador’s oil-rich northern departments where the FARC has an extensive presence.
In the past year there have been at least a half-dozen reported incidents of Colombian citizens killed by lynch mobs in northern Ecuador.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez said recently that Colombia has the precise coordinates of the FARC’s senior leaders and reserved the sovereign right to hunt them down.
Subsequently, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said Colombia would go after FARC leaders anywhere they could be located, including in other countries. Uribe gave Santos a gentle public scolding after complaints from Caracas and Quito.
But about the same time, Bogota’s RCN cited unnamed government intelligence sources as saying that 11 of the FARC’s top leaders are presently hiding in Venezuela (9) and Ecuador (2). This week it also was reported that the FARC’s new top chieftain, Alfonso Cano, is hiding in Barinas in Venezuela.
The Chavez regime has reacted very modestly, considering the seriousness of the allegations. Chavez has not insulted or threatened the Uribe government.
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro did not retaliate with his usual buffoonish thug talk.
Indeed, the Chavez regime’s restraint suggests it is conscious that with Venezuela’s economy going into a steep slump, now isn’t the time for a new political spat with Bogota.
But Ecuador is spoiling for a fight with Colombia.
President Correa has warned that any Colombian intrusion into Ecuador would trigger an immediate military response.
And this week, Ecuador’s Ambassador to Venezuela René Vargas Pazzos said that if Colombian forces intrude into Ecuadorean territory the Correa government would consider it a declaration of war.
Correa presents the conflict with Bogota as an issue of Ecuador’s national sovereignty.
But the reality is that Correa’s government has been revealed since a year ago as an active collaborator of the FARC, and at present Ecuador’s military is not actively seeking to locate and dismantle FARC groups in its northern departments.
Despite Uribe’s and Santos’ assertions that Colombia will go after FARC’s leaders wherever it finds them, Bogota likely will not deliberately provoke the Correa or Chavez governments.
It’s not in Colombia’s strategic interests to risk an armed confrontation with either (or both) of its neighbors.
With Democrats in control of the US White House and Congress, Uribe won’t risk harming his strategic relationship with the Obama administration by being perceived internationally as triggering an armed conflict with Ecuador.
But Correa, and indirectly Chavez, would welcome the chance to create a rift between Bogota and Washington. Uribe knows this, so it’s likely Colombian army forces will tread more carefully along Colombia’s borders with Ecuador and Venezuela.
The FARC knows this too, and likely will seek to provoke the Colombian army into crossing the border in hot pursuit situations.
But the FARC has been weakened in recent years, its offensive capacity reduced to hit/run ambush tactics, making greater use of landmines and bomb attacks (blowing up bridges, car bombs, etc.).
Most of the FARC’s top leaders are dead, hiding in jungle caves like rats in a sewer, or have left Colombia for the state-sponsored security of Venezuela and Ecuador.
An armed conflict between Ecuador and Colombia also would serve other important (for Chavez & Correa) purposes:
*It would detract international attention from the activities of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which recently received from the Uribe government all of the intelligence on the FARC’s activities and active engagement with the Chavez, Correa and other governments. The court this week indicted the sitting president of Sudan for human rights abuses and war crimes in the Darfur region, which means that other leaders of thug regimes are at risk of international criminal prosecution.
*It would create a destabilizing regional geopolitical crisis in which any negotiated settlement brokered by third parties likely would force “concessions” from Bogota that would weaken Colombia’s national security and strengthen the FARC and other radical leftist forces in Colombia.
*If an Ecuador-Colombia conflict were to erupt ahead of elections in both countries, it might strengthen Correa’s re-election prospects, but would not necessarily help Uribe’s chances of seeking a third term if the trigger was a Colombian military incursion into Ecuador.