What in the world…?

Last week, Colombian forces entered Ecuador and killed the #2 man from the Colombian group FARC. Depending on who you talk to, the FARC is either a revolutionary movement, guerrilla movement, terrorist organization or camouflaged drug cartel.

The response has been the largesgt diplomatic crisis in Latin America in recent years. Both Ecuador and Venezuela have sent troops to the Colombian border, Colombia is accusing Venezuela of collusion with a terrorist organization, Venezuela’s Chavez has called Colombia the “Isreal of Latin America,” and Colombia’s Uribe wants to take Chavez to the International Criminal Court.

Behind all of this sits the US, a staunch ally of Colombia who gives that government some 600 million USD a year as part of the “War on Drugs.” The involvement of the Evil Empire to the North has not been overlooked, nor have US lawmakers ignored the import of the situation. Bush is using the tension to call for immediate ratification of our potential free trade agreement with Colombia; both Obama and Clinton have weighed in on the situation, giving a preview of their own foreign policy leanings.

So, does this mean war? Not likely. And who is in the right? Also not clear, despite the stark rhetoric from all sides; this is a dizzingly complex situation. And now what? well, any conflict like this brings both problems and opportunities for any party involved. The best analysis that I’ve read of the stakes is here, but here are a handful of possibilities I see:

1) Rumors from inside the Ecuadorian government (totally unsubstantiated) are that Ecuador’s endgame is to use this context as a pretext for pushing the US out of its now-controversial base in Ecuador.

2) As mentioned before, President Bush is hoping to use the incident to push the US even closer to Colombia, an unflagging US ally under current President Uribe.

3) Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez will be out of office within four years, thanks to a recent referendum defeat. He will surely use this as a pretext for arguing that he should remain in power in some form, even if not as President, for national security purposes.

4) US Presidential candidates will be highlighting how they would act as Commander in Chief. Read here about Hillary and Obama’s positions. McCain has been rather mum, but long ago labeled Chavez a terrorist.

5) I’m just hoping this will mean people visit my blog more often, and maybe we can recruit a few more volunteers for Manna Project next year.

For more background, see articles from the Economist, NYTimes, and (my favorite) the Center for International Policy.

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