After years of euphemisms, both presidents show at last their respective cards
Carlos Arturo Serrano Gómez
Published 2007-11-27 07:54 (KST)
This Sunday saw the predictable pose as surprising. After Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was barred by his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe from having further participation in negotiations with FARC guerrillas on the liberation of over 3,000 captives, ties between the two countries were more strained than ever by a succession of harsh mutual accusations.
Chavez's role as mediator had ended last week when his telephone communication with Colombian military officers was interpreted as bypassing legitimate diplomatic channels. Upon receiving notice of President Uribe's decision to proceed without his services, Chavez complained in televised appearances that he felt betrayed and outraged. Finally, in his Sunday speech, Chavez let all his bile run free. He froze all relations with Colombia, called Uribe all sorts of epithets from liar to hypocrite and suggested the need for a change of regime in the neighboring nation. A response arrived a few hours later. The Colombian leader denounced Venezuelan foreign policy as imperial expansionism, criticized Chavez for his failure to oppose left-wing terrorism and exposed his ideology as an adulteration of history.
It had become an unofficial pastime to speculate on how long Uribe and Chavez would refrain from shouting their deep dislike for each other. Now that niceties are over, it is worthwhile to examine both positions and sort out their implications.
Chavez is right. Uribe never believed in the efficacy of his mediation efforts. The appointment was conceived as a roundabout way to find out whose side he stood for without actually having to ask the question. What the Venezuelan man did not see, while Colombian ministers took turns expressing dissatisfaction with the popularity he was gaining, was that the question being asked was a purely rhetoric one. Uribe would not allow Chavez to run the show. What he wanted was to leave the impression that he had given dialogue with FARC plenty of chances so he could feel justified in continuing the militaristic approach he never abandoned in the first place. This brief exercise with Chavez was merely one of the lost causes he lets run full course down to failure from time to time when he needs to reinforce the point. When Chavez accuses Uribe of sabotaging the negotiations, he's not too far from the truth.
Uribe, too, is right. Latin America is experiencing the domino effect Cold War analysts dreaded like the plague and spent half a century trying to prevent. Now that the U.S. is looking the other way (namely at the Middle East), socialism at its boldest has seized the chance to spread and has forged ties from Havana to Caracas to La Paz to Quito to Managua. In the process, Chavez has profited from shaping historic memory to his needs. By turning Simon Bolivar into a wholly unrealistic left-wing hero, he has fueled nationalist movements across the continent that result in the election of presidents with as much diplomatic tact, management skill and democratic sense as he has -- i.e. naught. After decades of barely resisting a Communist guerrilla force devoid of scruples, the last thing Colombia needs at this moment is to be swept by the colossal leftist tide that is encroaching upon the region. Uribe's fears that prolonged intervention of Venezuela in the peace process could open the door for a revolution were not without reason.
What the two of them got wrong, however, was thinking that this was news. From the beginning of their respective -- and repeated -- terms, they have had a hard time concealing their intentions. Uribe still believes open warfare will defeat guerrillas, without realizing that chaos and violence are the nourishment they live on. Chavez is planning his own Soviet Union around a distortion of Bolivarian ideals, even though Karl Marx strongly disapproved of the Venezuelan emancipator. Both Uribe and Chavez are fooling themselves. Now at least they have stopped pretending they can fool each other.