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A monument to shoddy reporting

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia’s right-wing government and Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s socialist leader, are always squabbling and have even talked of going to war.

Usually, the rhetoric is overheated. The latest diplomatic brouhaha is a good example: it involves a statue of a terrorist — that doesn’t exist.

A Colombian TV station reported this week that in the Venezuelan border town of El Amparo, authorities had erected a bust of Manuel Marulanda, the long-time leader of Colombia’s FARC guerrillas who died two years ago.

The only problem was that none of the TV reporters bothered to actually visit El Amparo. Instead, the station broadcast blurry images of the offending effigy shot from the Colombian side of the Arauca River that divides the two nations.

The FARC, which funds its war through drug trafficking and kidnapping civilians for ransom, is deeply unpopular in Colombia and has been blacklisted by Washington and the European Union as terrorists.

But Chavez sympathizes with the FARC. Shortly after Marulanda’s death, pro-Chavez activists in Caracas unveiled a bronze bust depicting the FARC commander.

Thus, when the news broke of yet another homage to Marulanda, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and other officials wasted no time in denouncing the Venezuelan government. Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez called the statue “an affront to the Colombian people.”

Even William Brownfield, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, weighed in saying: “In my country, we don’t honor or erect statues to terrorist groups.”

The Venezuelans did indeed build a series of statues. But rather than Marulanda, they depict South American liberator Simon Bolivar, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Fidel Castro and the great man himself — Hugo Chavez.

According to today’s El Tiempo, the erroneous information came from fishermen who spotted the statues from their canoes but “mistook their faces for the faces of guerrillas.”

Luckily, the confusion was cleared up before the two countries mobilized troops.