Sat, Jul 19, 2008 - Page 9 News List

Latin America’s anti-Chavez axis

The presidents of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico are quietly supporting political liberation in Cuba,
hoping to check the growing influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

By Charles Tannock

The rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages who had been held for years by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas marks more than a turning point in Colombia’s long war against its drug-running, Marxist guerrillas. It also confirms the emergence of a new troika of Latin American leaders — Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Mexican President Felipe Calderon — who are set on finishing off Latin America’s destabilizing drug cartels and guerrilla movements, as well as isolating the region’s demagogic upstart, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Uribe’s status as one of Latin America’s historic leaders was assured even before the rescue of Betancourt and the other hostages. Uribe won an unprecedented re-election two years ago with an absolute majority in the first round of the vote. But it is Uribe’s resolve not to negotiate with the FARC over kidnappings, and instead to pursue relentlessly the armed insurgency that murdered his father. In the process, he transformed a country that was in the grip of drug barons and on the verge of becoming a failed state.

The professionalism of Colombia’s armed forces, coupled with Uribe’s popularity and a growing economy, has delivered, for the first time in three decades, normality to Colombia’s cities and, increasingly, peace and the rule of law to much of its vast jungle regions. Uribe’s relentlessness has brought on waves of defections from the FARC, which is now down to 9,000 guerrillas from a peak of 16,000 in 2001. Indeed, many FARC defectors now prefer to fight for their cause at the ballot box under the new left-wing Polo Alternativo Democratico.

But the benefits of Uribe’s apparent defeat of the FARC extend far beyond Colombia. The hostage rescue has also forced Chavez, still recovering from his failed power-grab referendum of last year, onto the defensive. The Uribe-Lula-Calderon axis appears set on keeping him there.

Chavez is the loser not only because he has provided the FARC moral support (he once described them as “belligerents,” not terrorists), but also because it is believed he has been providing the FARC covert military support. That backing appeared to be part of Chavez’s “Bolivarian” socialist revolution, which has used Venezuela’s petrodollars to bankroll left-wing governments in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Cuba in the hope of building up a regional anti-US alliance.

There were serious grounds over the last three years to believe that Latin America was going through one of its regular bouts of left-wing destabilization, given the rise of Bolivian President Evo Morales, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, and their ringleader, Chavez. But the recent worldwide increase in commodity prices has meant that the traditional regional powerhouses of Chile, Brazil, and Mexico have experienced economic booms of their own.

This made it easier for Lula in particular to buck his socialist allies and distance himself from Chavez, having as recently as this March backed Chavez following Colombia’s brief incursion into Ecuador that killed FARC Commander Raul Reyes. Calderon’s uncompromising hard line on drug dealers in Mexico, an unrelenting offensive that follows the precedent set by Uribe in dealing with the FARC, has also been helped because economic growth has muted domestic opposition.

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