The second-in-command of FARC (Colombia’s guerrilla group), and perhaps its most visible spokesperson, Luis Édgar Devia Silva, or “Raul Reyes” (the nom de guerre), was killed by the Colombian military in bombings yesterday. The Colombian military killed some 15 guerrillas in the operation, according to their own reports, including Raul Reyes. The reports suggest that it was basically an assassination, of the type the Israelis have committed in recent decades and are most recently accused of committing against Hizbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh (indeed, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez noted the similarity, asking if Colombia was going to be converted into the Israel of the Americas). From El Tiempo (Colombia’s national newspaper): “Reyes was killed in an intelligence operation that included the Army and Air Force, which intercepted a satellite phone call from the guerrilla chief, in recent hours that made it possible to find his exact location.”
Raul Reyes was assassinated on Ecuadorian territory. The Ecuadorian army took some of the bodies, but the Colombian army took Raul Reyes’s and those of other FARC officers.
Ecuador has retired its ambassador from Colombia.
Venezuela has also closed its embassy.
Ecuador and Venezuela are both moving troops to their borders with Colombia.
The Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, called Uribe a “criminal, mafioso, paramilitary” leading a “narco-government”.
“We do not want war, but we will not permit the Empire or its puppy, President Uribe, to weaken us.” Those were Chavez’s words on the Venezuelan radio program, Alo Presidente on March 2. Chavez called Raul Reyes a “good revolutionary” and his killing a “cowardly assassination”. Further, he said “It is very serious that a country arrogates to itself the right to bomb the territory of a neighbour and commit an incursion to take bodies, violating many international laws. Think of the consequences, not just for Colombia, but for your neighbours.”
The Venezuelan government’s official communication noted that the assassination was “a very hard blow against the humanitarian accord and the possibility of negotiations, revealing the irresponsibility of those who privilege the military option and escalate the armed conflict, making more difficult political and negotiated solutions, without regard for the consequences.”
The assassination was, literally, the answer to FARC’s second unilateral release of four kidnap victims, former Congresspeople, an operation coordinated with help from Venezuela. There are, therefore, numerous parallels with Israel. First, the tactic of high-tech, long-distance assassination of high-profile leaders. Second, the killing of dozens of others around as ‘collateral damage’. Third, the use of such assassinations to undermine the possibilities for dialogue and negotiated solutions.
In this case, as with so much else in the region, the target is Venezuela and the objective is to escalate to a regional conflict – or, rather, an intensification and internationalization of the military conflict that is happening in Colombia. Such a conflict would be incredibly destructive for everyone involved, for Colombia and Colombians, for Uribe and his regime, and of course for Venezuela’s revolution. The US, however, would benefit. When US allies use the same tactics in the same sorts of political situations against US enemies, there is reason to suspect a US role.
The US/Israeli approach in the Middle East, from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and the ongoing massacres in Gaza, has been to commit atrocities and acts of violence and, using their superior militaries, exploit the political and military opportunities that arise (this is a military counterpart of what Naomi Klein calls “the shock doctrine”). Even when they have backfired politically or strained military resources, these violent approaches have cost their victims much more than their authors, who continue to have reason to believe that more violence can work.
One of the political opportunities that Israel counts on after it commits an assassination is some random act of violence by the Palestinian armed groups, which it can then exploit, calling the Palestinians terrorists. The FARC have been told that if they unilaterally release kidnap victims, the response will be the assassination of their commanders. What should those who believe the only solution to the conflict is a political solution say to them?
It would be a major improvement in world affairs if assassination was not viewed as an acceptable instrument of policy. As it is, the best short-term hope for the region is if there is an outpouring of official and popular disgust at Uribe’s regime (and those who call the shots for that regime) for what it has done, throughout the Americas.