Colombia: President Uribe caught in his own trap

Unable to escape intense international and domestic pressures to negotiate the exchange of prisoners of war with the revolutionary guerrilla movement FARC, President Uribe has desperately invited Venezuelan President Chavez to mediate. Uribe still rejects direct negotiations with FARC and has in the past accused Chavez of supporting the guerrillas. The invitation is aimed at distracting attention from Uribe’s own difficulties. Yet it is proving to be no escape and the consequence is that the Venezuelan revolution is extending its influence.

Colombia’s elite are incensed at the invitation. The press has given unprecedented space to criticising their president, fearing Chavez’s ‘intervention’ in Colombia’s politics, working up a ‘Chavezphobia’ against the ‘dictator’, ‘caudillo’ and ‘communist’. The pro-government newspaper, El Tiempo, writes: ‘Chavez will install himself in the heart of Colombian politics’. ‘The president has given Chavez a golden opportunity to interfere in our affairs,’ says the magazine Semana. El Espectador states openly that ‘it is preferable that the war continues than Chavez be involved in Colombia’s affairs’. The magazine Cambio says ‘Peace in Colombia will advance his [Chavez’s] ideas, and that would threaten our institutional stability and our conservative political culture.’

Chavez has received support for his mediating role from Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, ‘Lula’ da Silva of Brazil, Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Nicholas Sarkozy of France. However, Uribe curtailed Chavez’s visit to Colombia in August and he also refused to allow a meeting between Chavez and FARC leader Manuel Marulanda on Colombian soil. Chavez has thrown the ball into the US court, meeting US relatives of FARC prisoners, and he has invited the US to release ‘Simon Trinidad’ and ‘Sonia’, two FARC members imprisoned in the US. He has also spoken to Colombian relatives, and on 7 September met National Liberation Army (ELN) representatives and the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace in Caracas. Chavez will meet with Uribe again on 1 October. Uribe has invited a US Congressional delegation to attend a meeting between Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, Chavez, and the FARC, which is due to take place in Caracas on 8 October.

Politics in the barrios

In Colombia, the new opposition coalition ‘Polo Democratico’, has organised Venezuelan-style ‘Bolivarian circles’, which reflects work organised amongst the two million Colombians displaced to Venezuela by the war at home. This brings back the Venezuelan revolution’s ideas to Colombia. A ‘Colombian Bolivarian Current’ has united with the Polo Democratico in Barranquilla to stand in the October local elections. There are Bolivarian movements against poverty in at least five Colombian states.

Near Bogota, elections of activists to local councils have led to cooperation agreements with Venezuela, grants of scholarships for workers’ children to study in Caracas and free medical care to those who can’t afford Colombia’s privatised health care.

In the October elections, Colombia’s Bolivarian candidates hope to gain more positions on local councils. A national congress is planned to take place in December to decide on issues such as the Bolivarian movement’s relation to Polo Democratico, and to elect candidates to contest future Senate and Congressional elections.

Uribe’s DAS intelligence service raided a ‘Corriente Bolivariana Colombiana’ political meeting in Baranoa in May. The mayor received death threats. Fifteen agents arrested visiting Venezuelan Congressional deputy Jose Luis Pirela, who had come to offer scholarships to children, and deported him. ‘Colombia does not accept foreign interference from any country’, a DAS statement said afterwards. The head of the armed forces has warned that ‘Bolivarian circles are spreading all over Latin America, and particularly here in Colombia we want to prevent this from happening.’

Alvaro Michaels

FRFI 199 October / November 2007