Drug War: Actions of Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador in terms of Resovereignization
Previously published on July 7, 2008
On March 4th of 2008, Columbian military forces crossed the Ecuadorian border to raid a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In the process, they allegedly discovered a laptop containing evidence demonstrating the President of Venezuela was financially supporting the rebel group while the conflict escalated when Ecuador and Venezuela sent additional military forces to reinforce their borders. Although the conflict has been resolved, there is still a chance underlying factors could push the region into a larger conflict in the near future if similar situations are not handled properly and the influences, which lead to the military standoff, are not fully addressed. By broadening the scope of these events, the factors generating the conflict can be better understood in terms of an international conflict.
On one hand, Columbian leaders claimed their actions were simply a response to an attack by the FARC group; on the other hand, the Ecuadorian government viewed the strike as a violation of its sovereignty. In all likelihood, the attack against the FARC group was simply an extension of a policy aimed at cracking down on the rebels. In turn, Ecuador's reaction was a legitimate response to a violation of their sovereignty; albeit, the reason they chose to reassert their right of sovereignty so aggressively is part of a broader trend. With FARC attempting to undermine the Columbian government and enabling the drug trade, the United States has actively supported Columbia's efforts to combat the rebel group. Keeping this in mind, Chavez's potential link to FARC only serves to enhance the perception that Venezuela is behaving more and more as a rogue state.
Taking on an aggressive anti-American stance while moving to consolidate power in Venezuela explains Chavez's potential support of FARC as a means of rejecting US influence and undermining US power in Latin America. By using Columbia's apparent violation of Ecuador's sovereignty as means of rebelling against the United States, the President of Venezuela is behaving much like the US and the Soviet Union in the Cold War. While Chavez rose to power in the wake of an economic crisis and vast government corruption, he has attempted to cement his power by characterizing Venezuela's social and political problems as an extension of US influence. On the other hand, Chavez has tried to develop strong alliances with other Latin American nations while he has also supported charitable programs, such as providing low cost heating oil for the poor in the United States through the state owned Citgo Petroleum Corporation, that act as pro-Venezuelan propaganda. As such, he is not necessarily acting as a rogue nation, but rather, attempting to polarize the Western hemisphere with his response to Columbia's military actions representing a proxy conflict between the US and Chavez.
Conflicts, such as the one between the US and Venezuela, are emerging because the dynamics of the world are shifting. During the Cold War, sovereignty was limited by a need to either orient national interests toward the US or USSR while the post-Cold War world brought about a single superpower, leaving the US as the only truly sovereign nation. With the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the United States was posed to usher in an era of international cooperation that would fight global terrorism whether it came from state-less terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, or a nation engaging in state-sponsored terrorism. Unfortunately, these events only acted as precursor to the post-Iraq invasion era where the actual and perceived power of the US diminished, opening the world to less international cooperation and a push to reassert sovereignty without regard to human or civil rights.
With US military power hindered by the Iraq occupation, anti-Americanism high, and US economic power diminishing, smaller nations have the opportunity to break with the United States. As the US is the largest world consumer and its industrial base has severely shrunk since its pinnacle, increased world demand for energy and goods allows global producers to find alternative markets while consumers do not necessarily have to rely on US producers. High oil prices and Venezuela's position as a top oil producer gives Chavez the opportunity and means to undermine US power while the change in world politics leaves him with little repercussions for his defiant behavior. Moreover, Ecuador's enforcement of its sovereignty is influenced by world events, but the brewing Columbian conflict is a step in a broader rejection of US dominance and a reassertion of national sovereignty on behalf of Chavez.