Washington’s passivity has created a leadership vacuum, now being filled by the likes of Iran, Russia, and China — much to the delight of Hugo Chávez, who has established a strategic partnership with Tehran, purchased massive quantities of advanced weaponry from Moscow, and received generous financial assistance from Beijing. In the absence of U.S. leadership, governments around the region will naturally seek some type of accommodation with Venezuela, which is busy flexing its muscles and bullying its neighbors.
When it came to Makled’s extradition destination, Chávez probably tempted Bogotá with economic concessions and promises to dismantle any FARC camps that are discovered in Venezuela. But had Obama been a better manager of the U.S.-Colombia relationship, and had he shown a greater commitment to Latin America, it’s likely that Santos would have sent Makled to United States. His decision to placate Chávez cannot be separated from his perception of U.S. disengagement.
With the drug kingpin now sitting in a Venezuelan jail, we don’t know what vital intelligence information may be lost to U.S. authorities. But we do know that Colombia has delivered a powerful message about Obama’s neglect of Latin America.
Editor’s note: a Spanish translation of this article appears on the following page.