The real news behind South America's latest border fracas is Colombia's looming victory in its own narcotics-powered civil war.
This is a victory Colombia's chief international antagonist, Venezuelan caudillo Hugo Chavez, fears -- for several calculating reasons.
Let's start with Colombia's slow and grueling democratic accomplishment. On Feb. 5, hundreds of thousands of Colombian citizens marched in the capital, Bogota, in a mass protest against crime and terrorism. Their anger had an explicit political target: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known by its Spanish acronym, FARC.
The jam-packed demonstrations impressed reporters and correspondents who have followed Colombia's brutal two decades of "The New Violence." The protests provided in-your-face media evidence that security in Bogota had indeed improved dramatically and that public confidence in local and national institutions had revived.
Seven years ago, Colombia was being kidnapped, murdered and blown to shreds. In the dark year 2001, rebels kidnapped over 2,500 people. Rebel groups of the left (FARC) and right (AUC, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) fought one another and the government. Six thousand people died in the crossfire. The Colombian Army remained, for the most part, on the strategic defensive.
The grim years of murder stripped FARC of its vestigial Marxist political veneer, revealing it as a drug army attempting to hijack a nation. Colombians turned against FARC. In 2002, Colombia began hammering out an incremental victory over FARC and other narco-gangsters. (Critics of democratic Iraq, take note.)
By 2005, the Colombian military's counterinsurgency operations and the government's tough reform programs had clearly squeezed FARC into a few hard jungle corners. FARC, however, maintained bases in Ecuador (definite evidence) and --Colombia alleged -- inside Venezuelan territory.
This week, Colombia launched a strike against a FARC base in Ecuador. Tired of terrorism, Colombia is not going to let FARC thugs hide in Ecuadorian or Venezuelan jungles. Moreover, the Colombian government now says FARC intended to attack Colombia with "dirty" (radioactive) bombs in a desperate blitz to cow the populace. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe said, "We cannot allow terrorists who seek refuge in other countries to spill the blood of our countrymen."
Ecuador and its ally, Venezuela, responded by threatening Colombia with war.
Colombia argues that support for FARC by Ecuador and Venezuela means a state of quasi-war already exists.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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