Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reached for what he considered the ultimate insult when he called Colombia "the new Israel." If by that he means a country better governed than its immediate neighbors, that dares to protect itself against terrorists across its border despite getting bludgeoned for it by the international left -- he had a point.
Colombia killed Raul Reyes, the second in command of the narco-terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a raid about two miles inside Ecuador. Usually when a terrorist leader dies, it's cause for celebration. But Ecuador broke off diplomatic relations, and Chavez mobilized troops to Venezuela's border with Colombia, even though the raid occurred in another country.
Ecuador doesn't have cause for complaint when the northern tier of its territory is practically a FARC spa. Reyes was in a well-appointed camp, and he died in his pajamas. It was Ecuador that failed in its international obligations, by allowing on its territory a criminal with multiple arrest warrants from Interpol and a leader of a group that the U.S., the E.U. and Canada all have declared a terrorist group.
Originally the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, FARC has employed almost every imaginable criminal tactic in its 40-year war on the Colombian state: assassinations, massacres, drug trafficking, kidnappings, vehicular bombings, hijackings, protection rackets, land mines and gas cylinder mortars. It is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and untold numbers of internally displaced people.
Once, Chavez had the prudence to dishonestly disavow his support for the group. Increasingly brazen, he now declares solidarity with his fellow left-wing thugs. He called Reyes a "good revolutionary," and honored him with a moment of silence. He calls for FARC's international recognition. Colombia reportedly discovered documents on a laptop at the FARC camp that indicated Chavez, true to his rhetoric, had given FARC $300 million.
What exercised Chavez about the Colombian raid was less a tender regard for Ecuador's sovereignty than outrage at the blow that had been dealt to his ally FARC. He was initially angrier about the raid than his ideological soul mate, Ecuador's President Rafeal Correa, who Chavez dragged into making a show of mobilizing his own troops as well. Chavez's grand ideological project is to legitimize FARC at the expense of the Colombian government, thereby helping it overthrow his enemy, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Besides hurling the "I" word, Chavez calls Colombia a "genocidal government." He thus repeats the transvaluation of ethical standards we've seen in the Middle East, in which Israel is deemed a terrorist state for resisting terrorism and compared to Nazi Germany for providing a bulwark against a new anti-Jewish genocide. Chavez has made headway. Once merely incapable of keeping FARC from its territory, Ecuador now appears to welcome it and supports Chavez's pro-FARC agenda. Bolivia and Nicaragua are ideological fellow travelers.
A confrontation with Colombia serves another purpose for Chavez: distracting Venezuelans from how his socialist policies have trashed their economy. Despite oil at record-setting prices, Venezuela is wracked by shortages of basic foodstuffs. Last month, looters ransacked a state grocery store in Chavez's hometown. "You don't have to worry about not being able to find chicken or flour," Chavez implicitly says to Venezuelans, "when I'm mobilizing our army behind an outlaw band of fanatical Marxists."
The U.S. must buttress its ally Uribe in Latin America's ideological war. One way to lend him the legitimacy that his enemies want to deny him is to approve the Colombia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which would be an important diplomatic statement of the importance of our relationship and the progress Uribe has made solidifying democratic norms while beating back FARC. Democrats, though, have a case of the anti-trade vapors and are suspicious of Uribe because he is hated by leftist nongovernmental organizations and advocacy groups.
That's another way Colombia is the Israel of Latin America -- a moniker to be proud of.
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