Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Colombian Rescue Reveals Latin American Struggle

The spectacular rescue of Ingrid Betancourt, three Americans and 11 Colombian soldiers has given Latin American leaders the opportunity to speak up — and show the world that the political battle in the region is no longer right versus left, nor rich versus poor, nor pro-American against anti-American.

Those categories still count (there is still an enormous gap between rich and poor, there still are liberals and conservatives, there still are admirers and critics of the United States) but they are no longer at the center of the struggle. Today the struggle is between those who think violence is a permissible route to political power, and those who think political violence is useless and stupid.

Of course, every leader professed delight at the freedom of the hostages. Some actually meant it. Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet wants to nominate Betancourt for the Nobel Peace Prize. Brazilian Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said, “I hope this is an important step toward the release of all the other hostages, the reconciliation of all Colombians and peace in Colombia.” Argentine President Cristina Fernández said it was a day of “joy and happiness.” Colombia’s own Álvaro Uribe saw his popularity hit 91 percent.

Politically, those four are a mixed bunch. Uribe, a conservative, is Bush’s firmest ally in the region. Bachelet and Lula are pragmatic leftists. Fernández is an old fashioned Argentine nationalist, a Peronista with a tinge of anti-Americanism.

Different from each other though they may be, they are alike in at least one sense: none of them have anything to gain if the Colombian guerrillas who held the hostages were to get stronger.

Other leaders, though, have a lot to lose if the guerillas get weaker. So the hostage’s liberation came as a political setback.

Not that they admit it.

“Because of a basic sense of humanity, we are gladdened by the news,” Fidel Castro wrote in his “Reflections” column in the official government media. “We have honestly and strongly criticized the objectively cruel methods of kidnapping and retaining prisoners under the conditions of the jungle.”

But he added, “I am not suggesting that anyone lay down their arms, when everyone who did so in the last 50 years did not survive to see peace.”

A lie. Castro surely remembers that the 19th of April Movement, a FARC-like guerrilla group that in 1985 took hostage Colombia’s Supreme Court, eventually gave up its arms and today takes part in elections. FARC and a smaller group that calls itself the National Liberation Army could do the same.

But they won’t.

It’s not just Castro who backs their refusal to forsake violence. Hugo Chávez has been urging that Europe and Latin America take FARC off the list of terrorist organizations and recognize it as a “belligerent force” with an internationally recognized right to wage war. Earlier this year he told the rubber-stamp Venezuelan Congress that Colombia’s guerrillas are “insurgent forces that have a political project, a Bolivarian project that is respected here.”

But they don’t.

Whatever ideology FARC once had has degenerated into a orgy of kidnapping, extortion, cocaine trafficking, and sadistic cruelty described by Betancourt and the other recently freed hostages.

Even if they were still defending some sort of Marxist-Leninist anachronism, even if they attacked military targets only, their violence would still not be justified — not in a Colombia that, like most of Latin America, is a flawed, raucous and often dangerous yet vibrant democracy with a lively media and political parties that range far right to far left.

“The waging of armed struggle as a means of achieving power should end in Latin America,” Lula said the day after the hostages were freed. “'The belief that armed struggle can solve anything is out of date.”

Despite what the Havana-Caracas axis says, FARC’s armed struggle leads to nothing other than the perpetuation of its existence as a criminal enterprise in the jungles of Colombia.

1 comment:

John said...

You've never been to Colombia have you? Its not so black and white on the ground - all sides use violence and cocaine archive their aims. Uribe and his supporters have been directly linked to para military forces such as the AUC, and high government officials have also been videotaped taking bribes from the drug cartels. Some FARC members have put down their guns and tried to run for office, and most of those were assassinated. Violence and cocaine permeate all sides in Colombia, your view is way to simplistic.