Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Venezuelan radio on March 31 that: “A short while ago, I ordered an air force operation and we bombed an area where we detected the presence of a group” of Colombian irregular forces along the border. The Colombian ‘irregulars’ had attacked a Venezuelan military post, after which Chavez ordered the raid last Thursday. Chavez stressed that Caracas would not tolerate Colombian armed groups entering Venezuela. “Neither paramilitaries nor rebels nor the armed forces of Colombia have authorization, nor will they have it, to be on Venezuelan territory,” he said.
Colombian analysts have stressed for years that Colombia’s armed conflict would be used as a pretext to militarize the region, targeting Venezuela in particular (1).
Venezuela is the prize because, like Iraq, it sits on top of some of the world’s largest oil reserves. Venezuela is also a target for another reason-it has a democratic regime, which places the country’s oil wealth at risk of being used to alleviate the poverty of the people of the country instead of flowing to multinational corporations. This made it the target of a failed coup attempt in April of last year (2), the anniversary of which will be marked in Caracas with an international conference in support of the Venezuelan ‘proceso’. It was also the target of a concerted effort to overthrow the government by an ‘oil strike’ from late 2002-early 2003 (3). The strike, like the coup attempt, failed, but the damage done by this strike is still being repaired.
A side effect of the strike has been the discrediting of the labor bureaucracy in Venezuela. Both the state oil company, PDVSA, and the national labor federation, the CTV, were controlled by elites, putting Venezuela’s working people in the odd position of having to break a ‘strike’ that was not in their interests. In the wake of the failure of the strike, there have been sackings at the PDVSA, and a new labor federation has been formed (the UNT) (4).
Both the coup and the strike failed because they lacked support in the military and in the population. But Venezuela’s class-conscious movement and its independent government continue to be a problem for a US regime that is fighting a war for nothing so much as to try to gain a monopoly on the world’s oil resources.
And this is where Colombia enters the picture. Having failed to crush Venezuela’s movement by military coup and ‘strike’, is the US trying to get Colombia to export its own civil war to Venezuela?
One of the recurring patterns of the Colombian civil war is the ‘spectacular incident’ that is supposed to demonstrate the futility of a political or negotiated solution (5). Such ‘incidents’ can be real or manufactured. There is some evidence that one such ‘incident’ was manufactured in Colombia in late February of 2003, when the Colombian consulate and Spanish Embassy in Caracas were bombed. The Colombian government immediately insinuated that Chavez was behind the bombings, but no international ‘incident’ materialized and investigations suggest that the Venezuelan ‘opposition’ engineered the bombings.
The next attempt at an ‘incident’ came at the ‘regional security summit’ in Bogota, in mid-March 2003. There, the Colombian government (with its US patron behind) pointed fingers at every single neighbouring country. Panama was blamed for being a route by which arms and people are transported. Ecuador came in for criticism as a drug trafficking route. Brazil was asked to send troops to Colombia for a ‘multilateral force against terrorism’. Remember that in January 2003, Uribe asked for a US intervention in the country.
And, of course, singled out for special criticism was-Venezuela. The claim was made that Venezuela is training and supporting Colombia’s guerrillas, the FARC. Since the FARC is already on the US State Department’s list of ‘terrorist organizations’, a deft combination of Bush doctrine (of overthrowing states accused of supporting ‘terrorism’) and the Rumsfeld doctrine (‘the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence’) is enough to justify an intervention against Venezuela.
The entire conference was an exercise in the inversion of reality. It was Colombia’s army-backed paramilitaries who crossed the border into Panama in January 2003 to murder 4 indigenous leaders-the mayors and commissioner of the Kuna Paya village, who were shot and hacked with machetes. And it is the Colombian army that is engaging in ‘cross-border terrorism’, attacking Venezuela, testing its defenses and looking for the ‘spectacular incident’ that could stop Venezuela’s social movement and send that country into the kind of spiral of violence that Colombia has been living since perhaps 1948 (6).
Militarily and politically, the Colombian government is making a terrible mistake. Its army is unable to control even Colombian territory without the use of paramilitary mercenaries who massacre people and have displaced millions. It has been unable, in spite of billions of dollars in US aid and training, to make inroads against the insurgency whose ranks grow with each new atrocity committed against the peasants. With little support even in Colombia, with an insurgency behind it, what chance would such a force have against a cohesive, popularly-supported army like Venezuela’s?
The problem is that Colombia need not ‘win’ against Venezuela. It only needs to provoke the kind of ‘incident’ that could spark a war or an intervention. If this is the second front of the third world war, the war aim here is also ‘regime change’: the destruction of Venezuela’s democratic process. And the instrument, for now, is the Colombian government.
Justin Podur (email@example.com) maintains ZNet’s Colombia and Venezuela Watch sections.
1. See the work of Hector Mondragon on ZNet Colombia Watch, this piece in particular: http://www.zmag.org/content/Colombia/mondragon-col-ven.cfm
2. See ZNet Venezuela Watch for a great deal of material on the coup
3. See ZNet Venezuela Watch
4. See Mike Lebowitz’s letter and invitation to the April Encuentro
5. See http://www.zmag.org/content/Colombia/podur-rozental2.cfm
6. See Galeano, ‘Memory of Fire: Century of the Wind’, pg. 143. 1948 was the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and the beginning of what is called ‘La Violencia’ in Colombia, which Galeano describes as follows:
The political country, says Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, has nothing to do with the national country. Gaitan, head of the Liberal Party, is also its black sheep. Poor people of all persuasions adore him. What is the difference between liberal hunger and conservative hunger? Malaria is neither conservative nor liberal!
Gaitan’s voice unbinds the poor who cry out through his mouth. He turns fear on its back. They come from everywhere to hear him-to hear themselves-the ragged ones, trekking through the jungle, spurring their horses down the roads. They say that when Gaitan speaks the fog splits in Bogota; and that even in heaven Saint Peter listens and forbids the rain to fall on the gigantic crowds gathered by torchlight.
This dignified leader, with the austere face of a statue, does not hesitate to denounce the oligarchy and the imperial ventriloquist on whose knee the oligarchs sit without life of their own or words of their own. He calls for agrarian reform and articulates other truths to put an end to the long lie.
If they don’t kill him, Gaitan will be Colombia’s next president. He cannot be bought. To what temptation would he succumb, this man who scorns pleasure, sleeps alone, eats little, drinks nothing, refuses anesthesia when he has a tooth pulled?
It was done in the streets, with three bullets. Gaitan’s watch stopped at 1:05pm
(on April 9, 1948).
Some have compared Venezuela today with Colombia before Gaitan’s assassination.