Early Saturday morning, the Colombian armed forces bombed a target on the Ecuadorian side of the Colombian-Ecuadorian border where they believed Raúl Reyes, the second in command of the FARC, would be that night. After bombing the location twice, Colombian troops crossed the border and brought Reyes’ body and 3 laptops back to the Colombian side of the border. Reyes’ body was flown to Bogotá, where it was then transported in a car surrounded by 16 motorcycles and 35 members of the Colombian elite anti-terrorist team.
What does this mean for Colombia? Reyes is the only member of the FARC’s Secretariat to be killed in combat during 44 years of war between the FARC and the government. The Colombian weekly Cambio sees his death as a symptom of the FARC’s decline under Uribe’s presidency. Jeremy McDermott of the BBC states that that FARC’s aura of invincibility has been shattered. The Colombian weekly Semana argues that the killing may not have great military repercussions, but that it demonstrates that the state’s military strategy is working and may have important political effects. Adam Isacson from the Center for International Policy argues that “today’s blow is the latest- and the biggest- in a series of serious reversals for the FARC.” He also explains that Reyes’ departure could lead to a power struggle in the organization. Meanwhile, the ELN’s spokesman Francisco Galán said (speaking for himself, not the ELN) that Raul Reyes’ death could be opening the door for an “national consensus accord for peace.”
But it is too early to think of what this means for Colombia’s internal conflict; more worrisome is the regional tensions that have exploded as a result. President Uribe interrupted President Correa during his morning radio show on Saturday in order to inform of what had happened. When Correa came back on the air, he told Ecuadorians what happened and said that more investigation was needed. Meanwhile, President Chávez during his television show called Uribe an assassin and asked for a moment of silence for Raúl Reyes. He warned: ”If it occurs to you to do this in Venezuela, President Uribe, I’ll send some Sukhois” referring to Russian warplanes recently bought by Venezuela. Chávez then ordered his defense minister to close the Venezuelan Embassy in Bogotá and to send 10 battalions (about 6,000 troops) to the Colombian border. President Correa sent the Ecuadorian army to the site to investigate what had happened, and after receiving reports that the area was bombed twice and that the guerrilla fighters were attacked while sleeping, the Ecuadorian government stated on Saturday that its sovereignty had been violated, and withdrew its Ambassador from Bogotá.
While the Colombian government had earlier claimed that it had not violated Ecuador’s sovereignty, on Sunday night Foreign Minister Aráujo made an official apology to the Ecuadorian government, but explained that the raid was “indispensable.” Following Aráujo’s statement, President Correa expelled Colombia’s ambassador from Quito, called the raid a “massacre,” said he was sending troops to the Colombian border, and asked for a meeting of the Organization of American States and the Andean Community of Nations. The OAS is set to meet tomorrow at 2:30 p.m.
Following Correa’s statement late Sunday night, Colombia’s National Police commander General Oscar Naranjo announced that in the laptop computers that were found in the FARC camp where Reyes was killed were documents linking President Correa to the FARC. Apparently the documents show that Reyes had met with Ecuadoran Public Security Minister Gustavo Larrea, and that the Correa administration expressed an interest in establishing communication with the FARC and had asked the FARC to involve him in the release of hostages. Naranjo said there is also evidence that suggests that Correa agreed to place non-agressive troops in the areas of Ecuador where FARC members were hiding. Naranjo said the findings are “very grave in that they affect Colombian security.” On Sunday the Colombian government began to release some of the evidence, such as this document summarizing a meeting between the FARC and Ecuadorian government officials, allegedly found in one of the laptops. Some photos such as this one of Reyes’ last party and this one of Reyes with a member of the Juventud Comunista de Chile. MinisterLarrea has admitted to meeting with the FARC, but said this was only in order to explore the possibility of freeing hostages.
On Monday afternoon Naranjo announced that the laptops also have proof of communication between the FARC and the Venezuelan government. Apparently the documents demonstrate that Chávez provided the FARC with US$300 million and that the FARC were seeking 50 kilos of uranium. Naranjo said the Colombian government wants these documents to be verified by the OAS to dispel any thoughts that they may be false.
On Monday morning Ecuador ended all military cooperation agreements with Colombia, but clarified that it had not broken relations with Colombia. However, after Naranjo’s second press conference in which he accused Chávez of supporting the FARC, Ecuador did break relations with Colombia, stating that the Ecuadorian government was lied to during the whole operation and that now the Colombian government is falsely accusing the government of ties with the FARC based on unsigned documents. Later that night, Venezuela expelled the Colombian Ambassador to Venezuela, just as Ecuador had done the night before. .
The probability of an actual confrontation on Colombia’s border with either Venezuela or Ecuador is slim. Even though White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that `This is an odd reaction by Venezuela to Colombia’s efforts against the FARC, a terrorist organization that continues to hold Colombians, Americans and others hostage,” ‘Venezuela’s actions are not all that surprising. Chávez had sent troops to the border following a more minor debacle in January and is known for his excessive rhetoric which is rarely followed by actions. Just a few weeks ago he threatened to cut oil sales to the United States- a move that would freeze Venezuela’s greatest income source. On the Ecuadoran side, Correa is surely feeling pressure to react strongly to the events, and knows his nationalist constituents would further support him if he stands his ground for Ecuadorian sovereignty. The real danger here is that, in such a sensitive situation, any small mistake or misinterpretation (whether it be among dignitaries or among border troops) could lead to an actual confrontation. Michael Shifter from the Inter-American Dialogue has said that “there’s no question of the enormous political tension now and any miscue could set off a conflict” and Bloomberg news says that “miscalculation could trigger a military clash.”
However, it is the issue of Correa’s alledged ties with the FARC that is perhaps most worrying. It is a serious accusation– as the FARC is on both the U.S. and E.U. Terrorist Lists. If it were to be proved that Correa had an enabling relationship with the FARC, the international community would not take this lightly. Either way, this weekend’s events have escalated regional tension and surely soured the relationship between these countries for years to come.