The numbers must be bad for Chavez headquarters, and as rogue politicians do when their poll numbers go south is to look for a foreign adversary to try to shore up support.
This week, having failed to dress down the Spaniards - and get covered in international ridicule -, having failed to turn the OPEC in his international political tool, having made Sarkozy waste his time with him, and hint at it, Chavez aimed at Colombia, a true and tested method to win a few electoral points here and there. The only problem is that Chavez has not measured his words and he got a stinging rebuke tonight from Uribe. In fact, it is not an overstatement to say that tonight relations between Colombia and Venezuela are at their lowest point since Chavez came to office, and most of the blame can be put squarely on Chavez who know openly confuses Venezuelan foreign policy with his very own foreign policy.
A few months ago Uribe decided in a surprising gamble to ask Chavez to intermediate between Colombia and the guerrilla groups, also known as narco-guerilla, to obtain an humanitarian exchange. Namely, for the FARC to free some of its hostages in exchange for Colombia to free some of the jailed FARC. The problem here is that after 5 years Uribe does not seem to be able to erase the FARC from the map although he has diminished the FARC enough that they are pushed to a few jungle reduct where their only negotiating tokens left are the very hostages that the FARC has. Ingrid Betancourt is of course the glamor hostage of the FARC, the one they most need to stay on the international news scree as the French desperately want the freedom of Ingrid.
Unfortunately what was supposed to happen, happened. Chavez, never a subtle diplomat, slowly but surely made this mediation a self promoting road circus. Among the gems there was the invitation to Miraflores palace in Caracas of Ivan Marquez, one of the least palatable FARC guerrillas, thus giving the FARC a recognition that had eluded them until that day. Note: Chavez had tried first to go to Colombia and meet straight with Marulanda. The Colombian government promptly refused to grant permission and one would have thought that Chavez got the hint. But no.....
The last drop was a direct phone call to the big brass of the Colombian army. Piedad Cordoba, the go between of Colombia, a leftist senator with the blessing of Uribe, as a senator of Colombia might still have an excuse to call a top brass in her country but cannot be excused to pass the call to Chavez who started to ask delicate questions. Apparently Uribe had warned in Santiago Chavez that he could not talk directly with certain Colombian security personnel. We do not know what the General replied but the next thing he did was to tell Uribe about this direct interference of Chavez and Uribe, probably looking for a while for any excuse to get rid of Chavez mediation role, took the opportunity. Soon the Uribe government suspended Cordoba and Chavez in their mediator roles. There is a clear 18 point communique.
Chavez did not reply right away, but this morning he could not resit anymore and attacked Uribe, calling him a liar among other choice words. And froze relations with Colombia. For good measure he also said that relations with Spain would be frozen until the King of Spain apologizes. A classic campaign speech of Chavez, stirring the masses on cheap, really cheap, chauvinism.
Unfortunately for Chavez, it seems that since the King of Spain told him to shut up, foreign leaders are beginning to consider saying their own version of "¿Por que no te callas?"
AFP so far is the only one carrying some of the Uribe words this afternoon in English but Globovision has already a more complete account. Or Reuters if you prefer something more neutral. The complete speech has been published by the Colombian government. Some choice excerpts:
Calamar, Bolívar Province, 25 nov (SP).
...the truth, with witnesses...
...when there are no arguments and one resorts to insults, as you do, not only international relations are affected, but in this case, you with your insults and your lack of arguments hurt the dignity of the Venezuelan people that you represent.
Your words, your actions, give the impression that you are not interested in Colombian peace, but Colombia becomes the victim of a terrorist government of the FARC.
The truth, president Chavez, is that if you are promoting an expansionist project in the continent, in Colombia this project has no life.
The truth, president Chavez, the truth with witnesses, is that one cannot light up the Continent [South America] as you do, talking one day against Spain, the next one on the US; mistreating one day Mexico, next day Peru, and following morning Bolivia. You cannot mistreat the Continent, light it up, as you do, talking about imperialism, when you, grounded on your budget, want to build up an empire.
The truth, president Chavez, the truth with witnesses, is that you cannot confuse the people misinterpreting the legacy of Bolivar the Libertador. The Libertador was an integrationist, but not an expansionist..... The Libertador was not trying to free American territory form the domination of Europe, to impose, as you would like to do, your own domination, based on the might of your budget, on the people of Venezuelan and the people of Colombia.
I am very worried that you, in a hurry for your electoral ambitions, now is trying to the old trick of stirring in Venezuela the hatred against Colombia and the government of Colombia, to seek your electoral good fortunes.
The truth, president Chavez, is that at each moment surge new elements. Our consul in the US, who accompanied senator Cordoba to the meeting with one of the FARC prisoners there for drug trafficking, our consul has informed us that ..... the senator talked also of the necessity of a government of transition in Colombia. [Uribe was reelected last year with more than 60% of the vote in an election considerably cleaner than any Venezuelan recent election]
... that mediation was more interested in facilitating a government in Colombia under terrorist influence that to help us overcome the tragedy of the hostages.
We do not allow that you take advantage of our tragedy to come and include Colombia in an expansionist project that little by little is denying the freedoms that with so much difficulty this Continent has managed to gain.
Observe several things in this speech besides the extraordinary strong wording from a head of state to another one: the king Hugo is naked, his obvious expansionist project (ALBA, confederation with Cuba made possible as of December 2) and his authoritarian changes in Venezuela are publicly stated. Clearly, Uribe has decided that if Chavez wins in December 2, Venezuela will become a basket case, a source of trouble and Uribe has deiced to get ready agasitn the new Venezuela coming up.
It is impossible to underestimate the speech of Uribe today. Even if he made a mistake, even if he lost it under the heat of Calamar (he was sweaty on the video), his words reflect a crude reality that all knew and few dared articulate (well, this blogger did frequently anyway). Now it is out in the open and who knows where the pieces are going to fall. We are talking major diplomatic crisis today of unforeseen repercussions, starting with the vote next Sunday (more on that later).
Needless to remind the reader that for every dollar Colombia buys in Venezuelan goods, Venezuela buys almost 5 back. This time if Chavez were to close the border, we might starve at home.
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It fascinating to read the words of chavez. I have written long ago that there was no more a Venezuelan foreign policy, just a Chavez one. That is, if we are generous enough to call that a foreign policy.
"AS long as the King of Spain does not apologize, I am freezing relations with Spain"
"I declare that the relations with Colombia I am putting them in the freezer because I lost all trusty in any one in the Colombian government"