Latin American Analysts Mull Winners, Losers in Diplomatic Spat

July 7, 2008 - 8:18 PM

Buenos Aires (CNSNews.com) - As foreign ministers of the Organization of American States (OAS) prepare to meet in Washington on Monday to discuss issues including the recent Colombian cross-border military strike against leftist rebels, analysts in the region remain divided over who emerged as winners and losers in the episode.

After Colombian armed forces attacked a Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) base inside the territory of neighboring Ecuador, the governments of Ecuador and its ally, Venezuela, both withdrew their ambassadors and sent reinforcements to their respective borders with Colombia. Another leftist ally, Nicaragua, also announced it was breaking ties with Colombia.

The spat was resolved during talks held in the Dominican Republic, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe apologized for violating Ecuador's sovereignty.

More than 20 FARC members, including second-in-command Raul Reyes, were killed in the raid. Colombia said it found data on Reyes' laptop showing the Venezuelan government's financial links with FARC, and high-level Ecuadorian and Venezuelan contacts with the organization. The U.S. considers FARC a terrorist group.

Some regional analysts suggested that the U.S. had taken a blow, given that the crisis was resolved by the Rio Group, a bloc that excludes the U.S. and includes Cuba, rather than by the OAS, which includes the U.S. and excludes Cuba.

Adrian Bonilla, director of the Latin American Social Science University in Ecuador, said it was significant that "even Uribe, a close ally of the United States, saw fit to end the conflict in the Rio Group meeting, where the U.S. was not present."

At the same time, Bonilla said Uribe had also gained from the incident. Not only did he achieve the death of a senior FARC leader, but "at the same time he comes out unharmed, after offering his apology and promising not to do it again."

Although the Dominican Republic resolution did reject the violation of the territorial integrity of Ecuador, it did not strongly condemn the Colombian incursion, as Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa had hoped.

Professor Norberto Emmerich, political and foreign affairs specialist at the Universidad de Belgrano in Buenos Aires, said the U.S. too had also seen some of its objectives met as a result of the incident.

"It is interesting to notice how seven years ago the FARC were seen as a narco-guerrilla group and they are now being accused of terrorism," he said.

Bonilla said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had used the episode to strengthen his position internally, after sustaining several blows to his political aims. Most significantly, Chavez late last year failed to achieve a referendum that would have ended presidential term limits.

Andres Malamud, an Argentine political analyst with the Institute of Social Science at the University of Lisbon, said the cost to the U.S. had been slim. "It's allies [in the region] are steady, and so are its opponents."

FARC was by far the biggest loser in the recent rift, he said.

"If Uribe proves the involvement of the neighboring governments [Ecuador and Venezuela] with FARC, then the myths of non-interference in other states falls apart," Malamud added. This would also increase tensions between Chavez and those countries in the region that oppose his "Bolivarian revolution," he added.

Monday's OAS meeting is expected to hear a report by OAS officials who recently investigated the raid and carried out a fact-finding mission to Ecuador.

Last Thursday, Florida lawmakers Rep. Connie Mack and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Republicans, introduced a resolution calling on the administration to add Venezuela to the U.S. list of terror-sponsoring nations, accusing Chavez of support for FARC.

The resolution also urged Venezuela to end all links with and support for FARC.

"Chavez has not only befriended and supported the FARC, he has developed strong relationships with the leaders of Iran and Cuba -- both state sponsors of terrorism -- and has used those relationships to systematically disrupt stability in Latin America and the rest of the Western Hemisphere," Mack said in a statement.

The resolution has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Chavez in a televised speech Friday said the "threat" to place Venezuela on the terror-sponsor list was Washington's response to his regional successes.

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