“Ángel” and the “dossier” “Our man in the Andes” redux
Mar 052008

It is not news that Latin American sensitivities are high about issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Regional condemnation of Colombia’s incursion into Ecuador Saturday, which killed FARC leader “Raúl Reyes,” has been nearly unanimous. The move has been criticized by Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and even by more conservative governments like those of Alán García in Peru and Felipe Calderón in Mexico.

This makes for an interesting contrast with the United States, where even the two “liberal” Democratic presidential candidates defended the Uribe government’s action.

  • Barack Obama: “[T]he Colombian government has every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region.”
  • Hillary Clinton: “The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. … Rather than criticizing Colombia’s actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups.”

John McCain, reports CBS news, sees in this crisis a reason to bring back the super-hard-line “Just Say No” drug policies of twenty years ago.

“I want to reiterate our partnership and friendship with President [Alvaro] Uribe and the government of Colombia. … They are a vital ally. … I hope that tensions will be relaxed, President Chavez will remove those troops from the borders – as well as the Ecuadorians – and relations continue to improve between the two. … [The FARC] are a terrorist organization and one that I believe we must assist the Colombian government in repressing.”

For his part, President Bush’s three-minute statement on the crisis yesterday was partly a show of support for Colombia, partly a call for a diplomatic solution, and mostly a “commercial” for congressional ratification of the Colombia free-trade agreement.

President Uribe told me that one of the most important ways America can demonstrate its support for Colombia is by moving forward with a free trade agreement that we negotiated. … Our country’s message to President Uribe and the people of Colombia is that we stand with our democratic ally. My message to the United States Congress is that this trade agreement is more than a matter of smart economics, it is a matter of national security. If we fail to approve this agreement, we will let down our close ally, we will damage our credibility in the region, and we will embolden the demagogues in our hemisphere.

A State Department spokesman sent a more helpful message on Monday. After making clear that the U.S. government supports Colombia, Tom Casey called forcefully for diplomacy.

 ”[L]ook, I think right now our focus is on trying to encourage Colombia and Ecuador to work out diplomatically the concerns that have been raised about this military strike. Certainly, we expect that that’s how this is going to be resolved. And I don’t think anybody at this point ought to be talking about military action.”

This sentiment was echoed in a letter to the OAS (PDF), released Tuesday, which bore the signatures of fifteen members of the U.S. Congress. The message, calling for OAS leadership of a diplomatic solution, is the only Colombia-related letter in memory signed by both the hawkish Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana) and the dovish Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts).
While this letter was signed by both parties’ senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere (Burton and Rep. Eliot Engel [D-New York]), the ranking Republican on the full Foreign Affairs Committee was absent. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) put out her own, more bellicose statement.

The courageous men and women of the Colombian National Police, its intelligence unit and the country’s security services have shattered the myth that FARC’s leadership is invincible. … Recent State Department reports cite deepening ties between the Chavez regime and Iran and Cuba, and an unwillingness by Chavez to prevent Venezuelan territory from being used as a safe haven by FARC. These reports are alarming and require the careful attention of our government and those of our neighbors. … Rather than rattle sabers, Colombia’s neighbors need to play a more constructive role in bringing about a durable peace and removing FARC’s foreign sanctuaries that have been exposed by this operation.

3 Responses to “The U.S. view of the standoff”

  1. Chris Says:

    One very issue that everyone is trying to get at here is whether another country is justified in breaking the territorial integrity of another for the purpose of eliminating/attacking transnational terrorists.

    All countries would say no…only because you never know when it’s in your interest to protect what someone else may think is a problem. For example, the U.S. wouldn’t allow the Cuban government to attack/capture Cubans in Florida based on the premise that they were engaged in some type of destabalizing efforts in Cuba.

    At the same time, I am sure every country would reserve the right to attack terrorist/insurgent groups that were using another nation’s territory as cover. The U.S. does it constantly with al-Qaeda. Just the other day we bombed a town in Somalia in an attempt to kill a wanted al-Qaeda terrorist. From what I understand we may/may not have killed him, but we certainly killed several other people (most likely innocent) in the process.

    So, what’s the right answer…does the end justify the means? Well in my opinion, the international community gets together and decides who’s a terrorist (by some definition) and who’s not. When that happens, then its each and every country’s duty, as a member of the international community, to act together in a unified manner to eliminate the terrorist threat.

    In other words, Venezuela and Ecuador must work together with Colombia to eliminate the FARC. The latter because the FARC is listed as a terrorist organization by the international community of which the latter countries are a part of. When Venezuela and Ecuador failed to live up to the above standards, then Colombia had every right to defend itself and act as it did.

    That’s my thought on it all…

  2. Fabio Says:

    Chris: Hear, hear. Any reasonable take on this situation leaves one at least quesy if not altogether outraged at violating sovereignty. However, we cannot leave the definition of “terrorist” subject to interpretation if we are to apply an objective standard to who can be legitimately chased across borders. If you are a serial murderer, kidnapper, extortionist, and international drug trafficker, what you have coming to you should not change based upon which side of a line on a map you’re standing on.

  3. Global Voices Online » Colombia: View from U.S. Primary Candidates Says:

    [...] Colombia and Beyond collects the reactions of the three remaining U.S. presidential candidates regarding the recent tensions between Colombia and Ecuador. Share [...]

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