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Tensions rise as Colombia accuses Venezuela of supplying Swedish weapons to rebels.
Venezuelan-Colombian relations reached a critical point in March last year when Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez ordered battalions of tanks to the border with Colombia. The move came in response to complaints by Ecuador that the Colombian army had raided a FARC camp a mile inside its borders. During the raid, the FARC’s second-in-command, "Raul Reyes," and 16 other guerrillas were killed. For its part, Bogota claims it rescued three laptops from the scene that tie Chavez and Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa with the FARC.
Documents extracted from the computers, which Interpol verified had not been tampered with by Colombian officials, appear to give evidence of economic, political and military collaboration between the guerrillas and Chavez’s government. In one email transcript of a conversation between Raul Reyes and another guerrilla, "Ivan Marquez," Marquez mentions meeting with Venezuelan generals Cliver Alcala and Hugo Carvajal who promised him “20 bazookas” and even suggested “it should be more.”
A videotape released earlier this month that shows a FARC leader, Mono Jojoy, claiming he contributed to Rafael Correa’s 2006 presidential campaign has also added to speculation of links between the guerrillas and Latin America’s left-wing alliance.
Earlier this year Chavez and his ideological opposite, Alvaro Uribe, met to discuss energy and trade matters, suggesting relations were going some way toward being repaired.
But in recent weeks that fragile diplomatic truce was broken after a U.S. Congress report blamed official corruption and a refusal to co-operate with the U.S. for a fourfold increase in cocaine smuggling through Venezuela between 2004 and 2007. The report also accused Venezuela of harboring FARC guerrillas.
Last week, Chavez said he planned to “at least double” the size and capacity of the Venezuelan armed forces and said he had spoken with Russia about buying more arms after he learned that Colombia and Washington were in talks about allowing U.S. troops to occupy four bases in Colombia to help with the fight against narco-trafficking.
“There’s a Yankee military force gathering on our left-hand flank. What does Colombia want — that we should remain silent?” said Chavez, who is believed to have spent $9-10 billion on Russian arms in the past few years.
Tensions have certainly escalated, but Colombia, which is Venezuela’s second biggest trading partner after the U.S. with commercial trade figures of $7.4 billion last year, will have to play a delicate game in order to safeguard its economy. While San Miguel believes the unearthing of the rocket launchers may see Colombia accuse Venezuela before the International Court of Justice, Colombia will have to tread carefully.
“There is still a strong element of pragmatism and economic dependence that will shape these relationships with Venezuela,” said Michael Shifter, director of the Andean program at the Inter-American Dialogue. “Colombia is the country that has the most to lose — other countries will defer to Colombia and Colombia can't risk breaking all economic ties with Venezuela.”
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