Venezuela and Colombia are the original odd-couple of Hemispheric diplomacy. With the former run by a rambunctious socialist autocrat and the latter by a U.S.-aligned hard-right hawk, the two countries have been on a collision course for years. The proximate cause and biggest irritant has long been the Venezuelan government's tacit alliance with FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest Marxist guerrilla movement. This week, tensions just about boiled over as Colombia presented detailed evidence of Venezuelan collusion with FARC and a smaller rival guerrilla, the ELN.
Last year, Hugo Chavez amended Venezuela's constitution and abolished term limits. The entire business was a bit odd, but not because the constitution was changed, which is quite common in Latin America. Nor was it because the changes involved extended his rule (which is equally common). No, what was unusual about the constitutional reform of 2009 was that abolishing term-limits was all it did. You see, constitutions are uniquely plastic in Latin America.
What were two members of a violent Basque separatist group doing with 11 members of Colombia's narco-Marxist insurgency in a remote corner of southwestern Venezuela in August 2007? According to a blockbuster indictment handed down by a Spanish judge last week, they were participating in a kind of intercontinental terrorist training camp held under the aegis of the Venezuelan military.
I'm familiar with Caguan, the part of Colombia where Ingrid Betancourt was taken almost six years ago. She is still being held there in appalling conditions. I also happen to know Ivan Rios and Joaquin Gomez, the mafioso Marxist leaders of the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), because I went to Caguan to interview them, first for Le Monde and then for my book on "forgotten wars." So.
Nestled high among the mountains of Cauca, a coca-producing region in southern Colombia, La Sierra is one of those forgotten villages Colombians call ghost towns. For at least two years, it was governed by the leftist rebels known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (farc). But, on March 5, 2003, a band of 36 soldados campesinos, or peasant soldiers--ordinary Colombians who train for three months in urban warfare under a new government program and then return home--marched into town and took over. According to surprised residents, the farc abruptly left.