By Fausta Wertz
The Colombian army boldly went into Ecuador on Saturday and killed Raul Reyes, the second-highest commander of the powerful FARC guerrilla organization, dealing the greatest blow to the FARC to date:
The operation to kill Reyes began in the early morning hours when the Colombian army received confirmation from a spy that the guerrilla commander was in a hamlet called Santa Rosa just across their border in Ecuador.
Planes were sent to bombard the camp, followed by troops in helicopters who recovered the bodies of Reyes and another 16 rebels.
The killing of Reyes has shattered the myth of invincibility that surrounded FARC’s leadership.
A myth that has been quickly fading: It’s worth bearing in mind that the FARC has done two unilateral hostage releases this year. After each release, the former hostages have described in detail to the media the horrific conditions which they had to endure for years.
The Uribe administration has waged a strategic war on the FARC and it is bearing fruit.
The unilateral hostage releases point to the effectiveness of the Uribe administration. The information provided by the hostages has not only helped in the war against the FARC but has also significantly influenced public opinion in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador, and strengthened the networks of informants that Colombian government has set up within the FARC.
The Colombian security forces, with the help of technology provided by the US, have infiltrated the closed inner circles of the FARC. Over the past year the Colombian government has killed or captured three other top FARC leaders, including last month Luz Dari Conde Rubio, a.k.a. Doris Adriana, the woman responsible for the kidnapping of three Americans still held by the FARC.
But Raul Reyes was especially important to the FARC. As head of the FARC’s International Front, he was in charge of developing foreign contacts and links with other organizations sympathetic to the FARC, and was the FARC’s contact with Colombian senator Piedad Cordoba, Chavez’s liaison in securing the release of six FARC hostages.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa had first said that Uribe had informed him of the Reyes raid but later said he had been misled. One can speculate that Hugo probably called him reminding him of their joint projects and asked for a show of indignation.
Of course Chavez is livid that his FARC buddies (he insists that the world refer to them as “insurgents”, not “terrorists”) are under attack. His usual position on the FARC is that Colombia’s long guerrilla war has no military solution.
On Sunday, he ordered troops, jets and tanks to the Colombian border. Notice his choice of words:
“The Colombian government has become the Israel of Latin America,” an agitated Chavez said, mentioning another country that he has criticized for its military strikes. “We aren’t going to permit Colombia to become the Israel of these lands.”
Thor Halvorssen, director of the Human Rights Foundation, has noted Chavez’s hostility to Venezuela’s Jews. It comes as no surprise that Chavez considers this Israel/Colombia analogy a slur.
Hugo was all bluster during his weekly TV show, ‘Alo Presidente, calling Colombian President Alvaro Uribe a “criminal” and praising dead terrorist Reyes as a “good revolutionary”, while trying to sound tough:
Mr Chavez addressed his defence minister, asking him to “move 10 battalions to the border with Colombia for me, immediately”
While still on the air, he also told his defense minister to send tanks and jets. The Venezuelan Embassy in Caracas is now closed.
The Venezuelan public know that Chavez sympathizes with the FARC, and the public is also increasingly aware of the FARC’s brutality. Chavez would find little, if any, support if he were to contrive an international incident over the killing of a FARC official.
Additionally, last week in Venezuela two incidents of interest took place: a group of Chavez supporters (some wearing Che t-shirts) took over the Archibishop’s palace asserting the benefits of socialism, and a man died while planting a bomb at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce.
The man was carrying papers identifying him as a police inspector belonging to “social intelligence networks” created by the Chavez government. Blogger Miguel Octavio explains that
he was part of the police until October 2007 and was part of the “Socialist Volunteers”. He was supposedly working for a Deputy elected under the backing of the “Tupamaro” group, a radical and armed group allowed by the Government to roam Caracas with weapons.
Both incidents point to Chavistas acting beyond Chavez’s control and becoming an embarrassment to Chavez. The public derided both incidents, many people discussing in public the ridiculousness of the takeover of the Archbishop’s palace, and the idiocy of the loose-cannon bomber. Venezuelans are increasingly worried that hard-core Chavistas may be acting on their own and out of control.
Of course Venezuela’s not going to go to war with Colombia over a brief Colombian raid on Ecuadorian soil. Hugo’s saving his saber-rattling for the real thing:
Mr Chavez had earlier warned Bogota that any incursion into Venezuelan territory similar to Saturday’s operation would be a “cause for war”.
Venezuela’s military perhaps would follow Chavez’s orders if such an incident were to occur; however, let’s not forget that it was former defense minister Raul Baduel who made the last election results stand.
Whether the military would go along Chavez’s plan and create a Falklands Islands-like diversion from Venezuela’s increasingly dire internal situation is anyone’s guess. But surely it would take more than Chavez’s rants to bring about an international incident.
Fausta Wertz is a resident of Princeton Township and blogs at Fausta’s blog.