By James Petras
President Uribe’s troop and missile assault, violating Ecuadorian sovereignty came very close to precipitating a regional war with Ecuador and Venezuela. During an interview I had with President Chavez, at the time of this bellicose act, he confirmed to me the gravity of Uribe’s doctrine of ‘preventive war’ and ‘extra-territorial intervention’, calling the Colombian regime the ‘Israel of Latin America’. Earlier, during his Sunday radio program ‘Alo Presidente’, in which I was an invited guest, he followed up with an announcement that he was sending ground, air and sea forces to the Venezuelan frontier with Colombia.
Uribe’s cross-border attack was meant to probe the political ‘will’ of Ecuador and Venezuela to respond to military aggression, as well as to test the performance of US-coordinated remote, satellite directed missile attack. There is no doubt also that Uribe aimed to scuttle the imminent humanitarian release of FARC prisoner, Ingrid Betancourt, being negotiated by the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, Ecuador’s Interior Minister Larrea, the Colombian Red Cross and especially Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Kouchner, Larrea and Chavez were in direct contact with FARC’s leader, Raul Reyes who, along with 22 others, including non-combatants of various nationalities, were assassinated in Ecuador by Uribe’s American-coordinated missile and ground attack. Uribe’s military intervention was in part directed at denying the important diplomatic role, which Chavez was playing in the release FARC-held prisoners, in contrast to the failure of Uribe’s military efforts to ‘free the prisoners’.
Raul Reyes was recognized as the legitimate interlocutor in these negotiations by both European and Latin American governments, as well as the Red Cross; if the negotiations succeeded in the prisoner release it was likely that the same governments and humanitarian bodies would pressure Uribe to open comprehensive prisoner exchange and peace negotiations with the FARC, which was contrary to Bush and Uribes’ policy of unrelenting warfare, political assassinations and scorched earth policies.
What was at stake in Uribe’s violating Ecuadorian sovereignty and murdering 22 FARC guerrillas and Mexican visitors was nothing less than the entire military counter-insurgency strategy, which has been pursued by Uribe since coming to office in 2002.
Uribe was clearly willing to risk what eventually happened – the censure and sanction of the Organization of American States and the (temporary) break in relations with Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua. He did so because he could count on Washington’s backing, which covertly (and illegally) participated in and immediately applauded the attack. That was more important than jeopardizing cooperation with Latin American nations and France. Colombia remains Washington’s military forward shield in Latin America and, in particular, it is the most important politico-military instrument to destabilize and overthrow the anti-imperialist Chavez government. Clinton and Bush have invested over $6 billion dollars in military aid to Colombia over the past 7 years, including sending 1500 military advisers and Special Forces, dozens of Israeli commandos and ‘trainers’, funding over 2000 mercenary fighters and over 10,000 paramilitary forces working closely with the 200,000-man strong Colombian Armed Forces.
Notwithstanding these and other international considerations, influencing Uribe’s extra-territorial ‘act of war’, I would argue that the main consideration in this attack on the FARC campsite in Ecuador was to decapitate, weaken and isolate the most powerful guerrilla movement in Latin America and the most uncompromising opponent to Washington and Bogot