A major diplomatic and political conflict has exploded between Colombia and Venezuela after the revelation of a Colombian government covert operation in Venezuela, involving the recruitment of Venezuelan military and security officers in the kidnapping of a Colombian leftist leader. Following an investigation by the Venezuelan Ministry of Interior and reports and testimony from journalists and other knowledgeable political observers it was determined that the highest echelons of the Colombian government, including President Uribe, planned and executed this onslaught on Venezuelan sovereignty.
Once direct Colombian involvement was established, the Venezuelan government demanded a public apology from the Colombian government while seeking a diplomatic solution by blaming Colombian Presidential advisers. The Colombian regime took the offensive, launching an aggressive defense of its involvement in the violation of Venezuelan sovereignty and, beyond that, seeking to establish in advance, under the rationale of “national security” the legitimacy of future acts of aggression. As a result President Chavez has recalled the Venezuelan Ambassador from Bogota, suspended all state-to-state commercial and political agreements pending an official state apology. In response the US Government gave unconditional support to Colombian violation of Venezuelan sovereignty and urged the Uribe regime to push the conflict further. What began as a diplomatic conflict over a specific incident has turned into a major, defining crises in US and Latin American political relations with potentially explosive military, economic and political consequences for the entire region.
In justifying the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, the Colombian leftist leader, the Uribe regime has promulgated a new foreign policy doctrine which echoes that of the Bush Administration: the right of unilateral intervention in any country in which the Colombian government perceives or claims is harboring or providing refuge to political adversaries (which the regime labels as “terrorists”) which might threaten the security of the state. The Uribe doctrine of unilateral intervention echoes the preventive war speech, enunciated in late 2001 by President Bush. Clearly Uribe’s action and pronouncement is profoundly influenced by the dominance that Washington exercises over the Uribe regime’s policies through its extended $3 billion dollar military aid program and deep penetration of the entire political-defense apparatus.
Uribe’s offensive military doctrine involves several major policy propositions:
1.) The right to violate any country’s sovereignty, including the use of force and violence, directly or in cooperation with local mercenaries.
2.) The right to recruit and subvert military and security officials to serve the interests of the Colombian state.
3.) The right to allocate funds to bounty hunters or “third parties” to engage in illegal violent acts within a target country.
4.) The assertion of the supremacy of Colombian laws, decrees and policies over and against the sovereign laws of the intervened country.
The Uribe doctrine clearly echoes Washington’s global pronouncements. While the immediate point of aggression involves Colombia’s relations to Venezuela, the Uribe doctrine lays the basis for unilateral military intervention anywhere in the hemisphere. Uribe’s doctrine is a threat to sovereignty of any country in the hemisphere: its intervention in Venezuela and the justification provides a precedent for future aggression.
Colombia’s adoption and implementation of the extraterritorial policy as part of its strategy of unilateral intervention is not coincidental, as the Colombian security forces have been trained and advised by US and Israeli secret agencies. More directly, through its $3 billion dollar military aid program Washington is in a command-and-control position within all sectors of the Colombian state and thus able to determine the security doctrine of the Uribe regime. More important Uribe has been a long-time, large-scale practitioner of death squad politics prior to his ascendancy to the Presidency and prior to receiving large scale US aid. By borrowing the Bush Doctrine from his patron-state, Uribe has internationalized the terror practices which he has pursued for the past 20 years within Colombia.
Prior to the recent spate of high profile trans-border kidnapping (Trinidad in Ecuador, Granda in Venezuela), the Uribe regime has engaged in frequent interventions, kidnapping and assassinating popular leaders and soldiers from bordering countries, and providing material and political support to would-be ‘golpistas’, especially in Venezuela. Dozens of Colombian refugees fleeing marauding death squads have been pursued into Venezuela and killed or kidnapped over the past three years by Colombian paramilitary and security forces. Six Venezuelan soldiers were killed by Colombian security forces in an “unexplained” incident. More recently, in 2004, over 130 Colombian paramilitary forces and other irregulars were infiltrated into Venezuela to engage in terrorist violence to trigger action by Venezuelan-US coup-makers. Shortly thereafter Colombian security forces and the US CIA intervened in Ecuador to kidnap a former peace negotiator of the FARC, Colombia’s major guerrilla group.
What is new and more ominous is that the Uribe regime’s de facto policy of extra-territoriality has been converted into a de jure strategic doctrine of unilateral military intervention. Colombia no longer pretends to be engaged in a “covert” selective policy of violating other countries sovereignty but has publicly declared the supremacy of its laws and the right to apply them anywhere in the world where it unilaterally declares its case for national security. Colombia’s gross violations of Venezuelan and Ecuadorian sovereignty is a policy clearly endorsed and dictated at the highest levels of the Colombian state exclusively the prerogative of President Uribe and endorsed at the highest level of the US government by its principal diplomatic spokesperson in Colombia, Ambassador Woods (“We endorse Uribe’s action 100%”). The ‘Granda incident’ is not simply an isolated diplomatic incident which can be resolved through good faith bilateral negotiations. The kidnapping is part of a larger strategy involving preparations ideological, political and military for a large-scale, political-military confrontation with Venezuela.
The enunciation and practice of the Uribe Doctrine has several purposes. One is in line with US and Colombian elite policy: To overthrow the Chavez regime. Chavez opposes the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as its plans to invade Iran. In Latin America, Chavez opposes the US-dominated Free Trade of the Americas Pact. Secondly the Uribe doctrine seeks to destroy Cuban-Venezuelan trade ties, in order to undermine the Cuban revolutionary government. Thirdly the Uribe doctrine is aimed at maintaining Venezuela as an exclusive oil exporter to the US at a time when the Chavez government has signed trade agreements to diversify its oil markets to China and elsewhere. Fourthly, and most probably most important from the strict perspective of the Uribe regime’s survival, the Colombian government is profoundly disturbed by the positive social impact which the Chavez welfare policies have on the majority of Colombians living in poverty, especially his newly announced agrarian reform, and his defense of national public enterprises (especially the state petroleum company) within the framework of free and democratic institutions. Uribe’s austerity policies, his military and paramilitary forces displacement of three million peasants, his promotion of greater and greater concentration of wealth and the slashing of social services, and worse, the systematic long-term large-scale violations of human and democratic rights stand in polar opposition to Venezuela under President Chavez which provides a viable, accessible and visible alternative easily understood by vast numbers of Colombians who migrate to Venezuela. By intervening in Venezuela, by supporting US and its local coup-makers, Uribe hopes to undercut the political appeal of revolutionary politics, whether it takes the form of electoral, guerrilla and /or social movements.
The most immediate purpose of the Uribe doctrine is to defeat the 20,000 person guerrilla armies which control or influence half of Colombia’s territory. The purpose of the recent interventions is to pressure neighboring governments to ally themselves with the Colombian death-squads in a regional campaign to resolve the Colombian elites internal problems i.e. the decimation of the opposition to US regional domination. The bombastic “anti-terror” international propaganda campaign of the Uribe regime is an admission of the failure of its internal counter-insurgency campaign. Uribe’s accusations that the Venezuelan State is “protecting” or “providing sanctuary to terrorists” is patently false. Uribe provides no systematic evidence. The real purpose is to blackmail the Venezuelan state or its most malleable sectors into abdicating their role as a neutral peace mediators and submitting to the dictates of the Colombian-US security apparatus.
The Uribe regime has been widely recognized as one of the worst practitioners of state terrorism in the world.
Tens of thousands of peasants, social and human rights activists, trade unionists and journalists have been murdered by the security forces the military directly, or via the state financed paramilitary groups. Every day of every year, scores of peasants and critics of the regime are slaughtered. State terror is the defining characteristic of the Uribe regime and its US military advisory and military mission.
Uribe who sends 130 paramilitary forces to terrorize Venezuela, supports a failed violent coup and then provides asylum and material support to the exiled senior members of the coup and who blatantly bribes Venezuelan soldiers to betray their country to perpetuate a kidnapping, accuses Chavez of harboring terrorists and calls for an “international conference” on “terrorism”. Uribe’s purpose in calling for a regional conference is not to discuss the state terrorism which is endemic to and embedded in his regime (with US backing), but to justify the Uribe doctrine of unilateral intervention and to mobilize other regional US clients in support of its internal war and to pressure the Chavez regime to subordinate itself to Colombia’s security doctrine.
Chavez has recognized the growing security threat posed by the kidnapping and has terminated state-to-state economic and military projects and recalled his ambassador from Bogotá. He has proposed to Uribe a bi-lateral meeting of heads of state to resolve differences with regard to the kidnapping and related incidents. But no amount of diplomatic maneuvering on the part of Venezuela’s foreign ministry nor aggressive propaganda campaign by the Colombian security state can obviate the fact that the Colombian state is bent on a course of direct military confrontation with Venezuela.
Implication of Uribe Doctrine
The political and military implications of the Uribe Doctrine are an extreme departure from the recognized norms of international law and closely approximate the belligerent practices of imperial satraps. If all countries were the apply the Uribe Doctrine we would face a world of constant wars, conquests and prolonged liberation struggles throughout Latin America.
Explicit in the Uribe Doctrine’s claim to militarily intervene across national borders is a state of permanent belligerency. This policy means that every Latin American country must limit its sovereignty according to the Colombian definitions of “national security”. This is clearly unacceptable to any independent country, like Venezuela, though the Gutierrez regime in Ecuador has accepted the role of a “second level client” , of the Uribe regime which in turn is a client of the US.
Equally serious, the Uribe Doctrine rejects recognized frontiers, meaning that it arrogates to itself the right to cross national boundaries at will without consulting the countries whose borders it violates. It is a short step from not recognizing borders and national boundaries to annexing adjacent regions for “security” or economic reasons. Colombia has in the recent past (1992) nearly provoked a major war by sending its warships into Venezuelan waters. Uribe’s notion of an international ideological war without frontiers is an exact replica of the Bush imperial project, translated into the Andean region. Clearly Uribe aspires to play a sub-imperial role in the Northern region of South America under US tutelage.
The Uribe Doctrine stands as a stark rejection of all United Nation’s principles and in violation of international law-which, however, has already been weakened by the acquiescence of most of the major Latin American countries in the US-led invasion of Haiti, the kidnapping of its elected leader (President Bertrand Aristide) and the presence of Latin American colonial occupation forces on the island.
The Colombian threat to Venezuela’s sovereignty has been taken by Venezuela’s rightwing opposition as a welcome intervention. This was manifest in the Congressional debates following the kidnapping of Granda when opposition members of congress condemned the Venezuelan government’s defense of national sovereignty and justified Uribe’s intervention in Venezuela.
Washington has provided more military aid to Colombia than all the rest of Latin America combined, and only second to Israel in the world. The US strategy revolves around defeating the guerrilla movement as a first step toward consolidating power in the Andean region and the upper Amazon basin. Once secured this region would become a springboard toward invading and taking over Venezuela and its oil fields. The US, through Uribe, has tripled the size of the Colombian armed forces over the past few years to over 267,000 troops. It has vastly increased its aerial firepower (combat helicopters and fighter planes) and provided the most advanced technological weaponry to detect and track guerrilla movements. Yet the strategy, while massacring thousands of peasant sympathizers and displacing millions of others, has failed to gain any strategic military advantage over the guerrillas. As long as the Colombian regime is tied down by the guerrilla resistance, it can only play a limited role in any military invasion of Venezuela. For Uribe to engage in a US-sponsored invasion of Venezuela is a very risky proposition, opening a large swathe of territory for a guerrilla offensive
The kidnapping of Granda is only the “dress rehearsal” of a larger project of escalating provocations to test the loyalty, discipline and effectiveness of the Venezuelan security system. Washington is probing to see how far it can push Venezuela in surrendering its sovereignty and control over its borders.
Uribe and Washington’s effort to drive a wedge between the popular resistance in Colombia and the Chavez government by using the “terrorist issue” as a political club has, in part, backfired , arousing a potent undercurrent of nationalist sentiment in Venezuela, while seriously jeopardizing important sectors of the Colombian economy, including elite classes which normally back Uribe.
Washington and Uribe’s proposal for an international conference to discuss the issue of terror is based on their knowledge that most of the Latin American regimes today are eager to serve US interests. During the previous period of sustained economic and political warfare against the elected Chavez government by the authoritarian right, Brazil’s Celso Amorin organized a group of countries calling themselves “The Friends of Venezuela” made up of hostile neo-liberal Ibero-Americans leaders, including ex-Presidents Aznar of Spain and Bush of the US (who both supported the failed military coup), Fox of Mexico and Lagos of Chile (notorious free marketers) and, of course, Brazil which gave equal political standing to the Venezuelan rightwing opposition as to the elected government. Chavez rightly rejected the mediation of such “friends”.
Today Lula offers his services once again to “mediate” between an international aggressor and a sovereign country. Except for Cuba, not a single Latin American client regime has condemned Uribe’s aggression or, worse, spoken out clearly in opposition to his doctrine of extra-territoriality. President Chavez is clearly aware of the pitfalls of meeting in an “international summit” dominated by hostile neo-liberal, pro-empire regimes that have already accepted and submitted to the Bush-Uribe anti-terrorist doctrine.
Chavez is absolutely correct to counterpoise the notion of a bilateral forum in which the focus is on Colombia’s intervention, where the issues of Uribe’s policy of state terrorism could become part of the public debate on “terrorism”. Of course, Washington will “advise” Uribe to refuse. Chavez could then advise his foreign minister to take the matter to the UN General Assembly as a matter of urgent importance of peace, security and national sovereignty. Chavez has already retaliated to continued US overt aggression by signing oil export and investment agreements with China, Russia, Latin America and Europe. Shutting off imports of Colombian agricultural imports could stimulate a more intensified effort to promote local agricultural production, push for a more expeditious agrarian reform and greater public investment in local food production.
The kidnapping of Granda and the subverting of a few Venezuelan officials can serve as a wake-up call for the Venezuelan leadership to the real threats to national sovereignty which emanate from the US-backed Uribe doctrine. The threat is real, it is systemic and it is immediate. President Uribe has the backing of an imperial power but Chavez has the backing of the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans and the fact that they will be willing to fight to defend their land, their government and their right to live as a sovereign people. The question of Venezuelan sovereignty is now not simply a question of diplomatic maneuvers but of organizing the mass of the Venezuelans into becoming a military deterrent to any armed aggression.
JAMES PETRAS, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). He can be reached at: email@example.com