Colombia, Ecuador and Chavez

Chavez escalates border tensionsFor the last few days, I’ve been wanting to write something about the news from the region Charletta and I recently left. Today my teammates in Colombia released Border Tensions: A Prayer Request. This statement puts things a lot better then I could have. It also notes some details that I hadn’t heard, such as the claim by the Ecuadorian government that FARC commander Reyes was in “advanced stages of negotiations” with the Ecuadorian government for further hostage releases when he was killed.

I have to admit that I didn’t really shed any tears when I heard about the death of Reyes. Under his leadership the FARC has massacred indigenous people, farmers and North American activists and committed many terrorist acts. They’ve built a drug trafficking empire and lost any credibility as a positive force for change in the region. They’ve become a criminal enterprise acting with a thin veneer of ideology and in the process caused untold damage to Colombia’s authentic movements for social change. But the CPT release is a good reminder that this bombing represents a continued shift on the part of the Colombian government “to deal with the national conflict in a military framework rather than building on civil and diplomatic attempts.”

The team’s statement also mentions the “saber-rattling by neighbors in the region”. I’d like to look at that saber rattling a little more closely. Specifically, the war-mongering coming from the party that was not directly involved in the incident, Chavez. In the fall of 2006 I went to Venezuela on my honeymoon and wrote four posts here (1, 2, 3, 4) documenting some of the reactions we heard to Chavez from people we met along the way. At the time we saw that there were a lot of good things going on in Venezuela, but it was also clear that Chavez’s leadership was problematic. While we were there he made his famous Bush-is-the-devil speech that boosted Chomsky to #1 on Amazon. It was a stunt that brought up conflicted response for me. While it was great to have Chomsky get some exposure, Chavez was clearly setting a polarizing and divisive course for himself and his country.

Fast forward to this year. The US and Uribe has been making allegations about complicity between Venezuela and the FARC for some time, but I read these claims from a credible international source for the first time in early February, when the Observer (the Guardian’s Sunday edition) published Revealed: Chávez role in cocaine trail to Europe. It’s a disturbing account of direct cooperation between the Venezuelan military and the FARC. Given the stance of the Guardian and the Observer, one can hardly call it a right wing smear job. We have to take the article’s claims seriously.

Watching Chavez handle the Colombian bombing of Ecuador this week has used up the last benefit of the doubt I was willing to give Chavez. His escalation of the Ecuador/Colombia dispute have moved him in my mind from the category of good leader who makes unfortunate mistakes to leader who is clearly choosing the wrong path despite some good things he may say or do along the way. I think it’s important for those of us who resonate with his talk economic and standing up to US led corporate imperialism, to be clear about the limits of our support. His alleged collaboration with the FARC, outspoken support for them and now military escalation on their behalf crosses that line for me.

Comments (2)

  1. ST

    This is an incredibly thoughtful post. I feel it articulates so well a long term view of peacemaking and how it is okay to change one’s viewpoint about a leader (Chavez) based on his/her actions, while remaining true to the ideals that are articulated (equality, justice, ecology, anti-imperialism) without being seen as to jump on the anti-Chavez bandwagon.

    I appreciate the thoughtful distance that you’ve created, Tim…and thanks for the references to the other articles for further info and research.

    Asking Venezuelan grassroots activists in 2006 what it felt like to be in a place where one could actually support some actions of one’s government, they responded that they give Chavez “critical support.” This post reminds me of their nuanced answer.

    They are currently more critical than supportive and continue to try to find sustainable, peaceful ways to promote literacy, community agriculture and women’s empowerment despite what the government is doing.

    Some of these questions are so complex and feel impossible sometimes. How is anyone supposed to govern a “developing” country in the face of empire and so much disparity? How could they help but get hopelessly ensnared in the tangle that is world politics?

  2. Ingemar Smith


    I think your response, ‘How is anyone supposed to govern a “developing” country in the face of empire and so much disparity?’ is a question that opens up the dialog in a useful way. As opposed to more nuanced ways of going ‘anti-Chavez’ as I fear the initial post does. Having been to Venezuela and talked to several friends who have been, I have a very different view of Chavez. It’s difficult to not take particular issue with this statement: “It was a stunt that brought up conflicted response for me. While it was great to have Chomsky get some exposure, Chavez was clearly setting a polarizing and divisive course for himself and his country”.

    That’s an extraordinary statement. Particularly when contrasted with ST’s more thoughtful socratic approach as to how is a country’s leadership to navigate development in the shadow of global empire. Chavez’ speech was in ways a stunt but a very useful one. The notion that country’s trying to resist imperialism are, as Tim writes, clearly setting a polarizing and divisive course…” sounds like a page straight from right wing white supremacists talking to Black people that told the truth about white supremacy in the US. Polarizing. Divisive.

    Unless we remain intellectually vigilant it can be easy to subtly side with the empire and its logic, leading to an incorrect labeling of those attempting to resist the dominant paradigms.

    When Chavez gave the Bush-Is-The-Devil speech, oppressed people around the world applauded not because it was revealed truth but because it was an obvious truth that no head of state had the courage to speak. In the long arc of resistance to the empire, moments like that of galvanization of the global resistance to an empire killing millions, is important and history written by those currently oppressed will remember it as such.

    Our history will also remember those that viewed such galvanization of resistance as a mere ‘stunt’.

    All that being said, there are very real problems with things that Chavez has done. The allegation of cocain trafficking is serious and needs to be looked at. I certainly don’t take it as scripture because it came from a liberal newspaper that just so happens to reside in the former #1 imperial city on Earth. But it does need to be looked into. Also, Chavez made a serious mistake in attempting to change the Constitution last election to allow the President to be re-elected without term limits. I understand the thinking (and I’m conflicted) but, if nothing else, the timing was a mistake. He should have left the referendum to only deal with pensions for housewives and street vendors, that kind of stuff that would have easily passed. Then later on he would have had even more momentum to propose more radical changes.

    No one likes war. But the global imperial order is economic and ideological more than military. In that sense, Chavez and other leaders resisting the global white supremacist empire are engaged in war. This doesn’t mean that everything those leaders do in resistance should be excused. But, living within the empire (and being subjected to a propaganda onslaught of its views, values, news and ideology) we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to embed assumptions in our analysis and critique that pretend this is something besides what it is, a global war. Sometimes the war is hot. And when it is, we tend to do much better in choosing sides. But when its cold, when it is ideological and economic more than anything else, often we carry water for the empire with our ‘objective’ critiques of peoples and leaders engaged in imperfect resistance against an empire that is quite literally committing genocide of black and brown people the world over. We must be more discerning than we have been. With Chavez and with others.

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