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Alvaro Vargas Llosa

Venezuela's smoking gun Add to ...

If anyone thought Colombia's Alvaro Uribe, who'll be succeeded as president on Aug. 7 by Juan Manuel Santos, was going quietly into that good night, they were wrong. The Western Hemisphere has been shaken by his government's exposé of the sanctuary that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has provided to two Colombian terrorist groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Mr. Uribe's ambassador to the Organization of American States presented photos, videos, satellite maps and testimonies as evidence that 1,500 guerrillas enjoy protection in 14 camps along the Venezuelan border with Colombia. Ivan Marquez, a member of the FARC's high command, is based there.

Venezuela's complicity with the FARC is no scoop. In December of 2004, Colombia used bounty hunters to capture FARC's international spokesman, Rodrigo Granda, in Venezuela. In March of 2008, Colombia took out a FARC camp headed by Raul Reyes two kilometres inside Ecuador, a Chavez ally. A video posted by a Spanish journalist on YouTube shows the guerrillas in La Gabarra, a village in the Guasdualito area inside Venezuela's Apure region. Not suspecting the hidden microphone, a military boss from a nearby Venezuelan base admits he is aware of them.

But, this time, the evidence is overwhelming. Mr. Chavez has reacted, in the words of former Colombian vice-president Humberto de la Calle, like a husband who comes home at 3 a.m. with lipstick on his face and, when confronted by his wife, walks out furiously, slamming the door. Caracas has broken ties with Bogota - which doesn't alter the status quo since ties were frozen a year ago. For the umpteenth time, Mr. Chavez has announced preparations for a war he doesn't intend to wage, that his army would swiftly lose, and that he knows Colombia is too prudent to join.

In saner times, Mr. Chavez would not survive this exposure. But positioning himself outside of international law has never cost him much. He knows he's in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373, an anti-terrorism measure passed two weeks after 9/11. But he also knows that the OAS is a dysfunctional organization headed by Jose Miguel Insulza, a man intimidated by Mr. Chavez's government; that the United States won't attack Venezuela; that Brazil is too ideologically sympathetic with Mr. Chavez and interested in a sphere of influence that counterbalances the U.S.; and that he controls his army sufficiently to pre-empt any rebellion.

Caracas is also aware that Mr. Santos, Colombia's incoming president, has a more accommodating personality than Mr. Uribe. Before the outgoing president ordered the exposé, Mr. Santos was on a mission to repair relations with Venezuela. He had announced that Maria Angela Holguin, a non-ideological Venezuelan expert, will be his foreign minister, that his emphasis will be on achieving economic growth, and that he welcomed Mr. Chavez at his inauguration. Mr. Chavez is calculating that, once Mr. Uribe is out of the picture, he'll have a less obsessed foe.

None of which bodes well for the prospects of Mr. Chavez getting rid of the FARC and the ELN. Except that the popular Mr. Uribe won't shut up. He has placed the international community in an awkward position by revealing a degree of collaboration hard to find anywhere else between a state and the terrorist groups of a neighbouring country - comparable situations usually involve terrorists harassing a neighbouring country from a territory over which the national state is sovereign in name only.

Even if Mr. Chavez survives this, Venezuela is under notice that everything inside its territory will be meticulously revealed. The warning may scare some allies of Caracas. Since Raul Reyes's camp was targeted inside Ecuador, that country's president, Rafael Correa, has apparently broken ties with the FARC.

Some Colombians initially criticized Mr. Uribe for rarefying the climate of the handover of power. But he's actually done Mr. Santos a favour. No government with this much evidence of a neighbour's complicity in crime can afford to sit on it; sooner or later, Mr. Santos would have had to confront the situation - and bear the cost Mr. Uribe has now assumed. Should it have been revealed later on that Colombia did nothing, Mr. Santos would have been pummelled for jeopardizing the success of the "democratic security" policies of recent years.

At the very least, Latin America has a right to know the truth about Venezuela, whose government, not content with instituting a dictatorship, is propping up the region's most unsavoury characters - the latest being Suriname's president-elect, Desi Bouterse, a former dictator accused of multiple murders and convicted of cocaine trafficking in the Netherlands.

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute.

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