South America's emerging role
Posted: Monday, April 21, 2003
Matthew Riemer drafted this report.
(PINR) -- The Andean region of northern and western South America will undoubtedly become increasingly important to the Bush administration and its foreign policy focal point, the "war on terror," as instability in the region continues to spread and oil production is expected to increase.
Venezuela has been in and out of the headlines over the past year beginning with the attempted coup of April 2002. President Hugo Chavez was ousted for a matter of hours only to be ushered back to power by loyalists within his own military.
The next attempt to thwart Venezuela's democratically elected government came this past December when opposition leaders fueled a "general strike" in protest of Chavez's presidency; though in many cases the strike was really a "lockout" as opposition leaders and upper managers literally locked workers out of their places of employment, ostensibly forcing them to take part in the protests.
After two months the strike crumbled and, to the chagrin of many in Washington, Chavez remained in power once again. Recently, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the failed coup, Chavez supporters staged gatherings in Caracas.
The past year has been hailed by many as a victory for leftist agendas in Venezuela, in the region, and more broadly, in the hemisphere. Obviously, this has not escaped Washington's attention; U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked last week that he has "concerns about Chavez's commitment to the kinds of democratic institutions that we believe are vital in a democracy."
In recent weeks, Venezuela has also become notably involved with its crucial neighbor to the west, Colombia. Bogota, as well as anti-Chavez elements in Venezuela, has accused Caracas of not only sympathizing with but also providing shelter and aid to Colombian leftist guerrillas on Venezuelan soil in remote border regions. The Colombian government, prompted by reports from its own villagers living along the northeast border with Colombia, are also conducting an investigation of alleged Venezuelan military strikes within Colombia's borders against Colombian right-wing paramilitary forces engaged with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangal has rejected such allegations, claiming that Colombian paramilitaries had crossed into Venezuela: "This is part of an arsenal of lies which are permanently used to discredit Venezuela and make her look like a refuge for guerrillas and other elements involved in Colombia's violence."
Chavez is scheduled to meet with recently elected Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on April 23 to address these contentious issues of global interest.
An indication of how some in Washington are regarding the current situation is a telling Washington Times editorial released April 16, which observed with alarm: "Colombia's narcotics and terrorism cabals are spreading violence beyond Colombia. They have been given sanctuary in Venezuela, are involved in coca cultivation in Peru, are behind some drug-related violence in Brazil and launch forays into Ecuador. This regional aspect of the Colombian problem has developed a dangerous dynamic. Eyewitnesses claim the Venezuelan military has selected which narco-terror group they are backing, and are bombing their adversaries in Colombia. Thus far, the Colombian response has been subdued. But, if such bombing continues, the situation could erupt in conflict."
Such events and formulaic reactions to them illustrate how any region, any conflict in the world, can be neatly molded and packaged to interface with the "war on terror" paradigm. For Bogota's part, the Uribe administration knows it can most easily gain Washington's attention through its use of the rhetorical lexicon of the "war on terror" -- all one need do to emphasize the seriousness of a given situation or to justify one's actions is to dub one's enemies "terrorists."
Chavez, Rangal, and other outspoken members of the Venezuelan leadership are also well familiar with the usefulness of such propaganda, albeit from the other side as they defend themselves against various allegations of "terrorism."
Washington, though seemingly aloof, is anything but and has expressed its concern and commitment to Colombia several times over the last year. In a December 4, 2002 address in Bogota, Colin Powell promised Colombia: "When I return to Washington, I intend to make the case before our Congress for full funding for our Colombia programs. This is a partnership that works and a partnership we must continue to make and invest in." He later added, "I would like to be able to get a lot more funding for Plan Colombia but, as you know, there are limits to what the United States is able to do within our own country and around the world."
Colombia was also significantly mentioned in the U.S. State Department's 2002 report on human rights as being the source of 44 percent of the terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in the form of the FARC.
Colombia's oil production, while far less than Venezuela's, is still among the highest in Latin America. Many foreign companies, such as Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles have significant investments there. Ecuador's oil production is also expected to increase over the next few years and may reach as high as 600,000 barrels per day by 2005.
Now Venezuelan officials have claimed that they have "evidence" that the United States was involved in the April '02 coup aimed at removing President Hugo Chavez. Without much surprise, the U.S. embassy in Caracas has denied such claims, calling them outright lies.
With the recent elections of Lula da Silva in Brazil and Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador, both considered populist in nature and prone to making neoliberals nervous about the state of the South American economy, the U.S.-backed government of Alvaro Uribe in Colombia is feeling a bit isolated.
Because of this coalescing of many key events: the popularity of "leftist" leaders, Chavez, Lula, and Gutierrez; the continuing tension and friction between Washington and Caracas; the emerging involvement of Venezuela, though at this point only alleged, in Colombia's civil war; the admission on Washington's part of both its commitment to Plan Colombia and the significance of FARC as the source of 44 percent of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests; and the increasing importance of South American oil over the next 25 years, the United States will only become more intimately involved in the region.
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