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Commentary: Venezuela, Ecuador, amass troops at Colombian borders


Rebecca Bartel


March 5, 2008
- by Rebecca Bartel

"Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!" –Isaiah 2:3-5

Bogotá, Colombia - Tensions are rising. Countries seem to be preparing for war. The last thing we need is more war.

On Saturday, March 1, the Colombian army conducted an operative, killing 20 guerrilla fighters of the FARC, as well as FARC commander, Raúl Reyes. The Colombian government lauded the attack as a significant military hit against the insurgent group.

The attack took place on Ecuadorian soil.

Upon the recovery of the bodies of the March 1 attack, three computers were found in the guerrilla camp, allegedly containing a slew of email correspondence between FARC leaders and Ecuadorian and Venezuelan officials.

Colombia has accused the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela of colluding with and supporting the FARC (named a terrorist organization by the United States and Colombian governments, as well as by the European Union) financially and militarily, a charge both governments have denied.

Venezuela – a key player in the negotiations taking place between the FARC and the Colombian government for a humanitarian exchange of kidnapped political leaders held in the FARC’s power – has named the attack an affront on the negotiation process, and an affront on Ecuador’s sovereignty. In the last 2 months, the FARC have released 6 hostages through Venezuela’s mediation.

Both Venezuela and Ecuador have closed borders completely with Colombia, closed their embassies in Colombia, removed Colombian ambassadors and diplomats, cut commercial and diplomatic relations, and both have sent troops to the border areas that they share with Colombia.

Venezuela and Ecuador, both countries with left of center governments and strained relations with Washington, have affirmed that war is not outside of the realm of possibility and are preparing to take the necessary measures to reinforce their sovereignty and innocence in the accusations of the Colombian government.

In the streets of Bogotá, the tension is thick. Heightened police and military presence is notable, and both the army and police forces have begun a recruitment campaign in universities and on the streets.

Although the Colombian government has not responded militarily, and has announced that they will seek mediation from the Organization of American States (OAS) on Tuesday March 4, President Álvaro Uribe has confirmed his plan to seek approbation from the Security Council of the United Nations to claim that legitimate defense measures were taken on Saturday’s attack, invoking article 51 of the UN charter – the same article cited by United States to justify the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

The United States has declared complete support for the Colombian government in any actions it decides to take against “terrorism” and “terrorist supporting governments”. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain have all demonstrated their support for Colombia, and a select group of Republican members of congress are pushing the House of Representatives to give Colombia all the military and financial support it might need to fight the FARC. The Colombian Chief of Police has named the FARC no longer just a domestic threat, but a “global aggressor” taking steps towards “transnational terrorism” after alleging that information on the computers found demonstrate that the FARC and the Venezuelan government were negotiating the purchase of 50 tonnes of uranium.

Even Colombia’s opposition parties are voicing their support of President Alvaro Uribe.

War can be avoided. War must be avoided.

Pray for a resolution to this conflict that will lead to a long-standing peace in South America.

Pray for the transformation of hearts and minds of political leaders in Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and the United States and the reconciling Spirit of God to move all governments to work towards peaceable solutions instead of more war, and a just peace within Colombia and among its neighbours.

Pray for the decision-makers and mediators of the Security Councils of the OAS and the United Nations to make prudent judgments and to work towards peace.

Pray for the victims of war from all sides.
Rebecca Bartel is Policy Analyst and Educator for Latin America and the Caribbean Mennonite Central Committee, and a mission associate with Mennonite Church Canada. She lives in Bogotá, Colombia.