January 18, 2005 [LINK]

Resumed turmoil in Venezuela

Two separate matters are raising the anxiety level in Venezuela once again. Colombia hired bounty hunters in Venezuela to abduct Rodrigo Granda, a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) from Caracas. This was carried out on December 13. President Chavez has complained angrily, saying this act violated Venezuela's sovereignty. In retaliation, he ordered that work on a joint gas pipeline project be halted. Chavez's revolutionary rhetoric at times seems to give support to FARC, and U.S. Ambassador William Wood called on Chavez to decide whether the Colombian rebel groups are terrorists or not. See cnn.com. U.S. leverage in Venezuela has been weak ever since the failed coup in April 2002, and Chavez give every indication of aligning his country more closely with terrorist groups around the world.

For the past couple weeks the government has been pushing for a forcible land redistribution campaign. This is remarkably similar to what has been happening in Zimbabwe under President Mugabe in recent years. Police and army forces have forcibly entered a few large farm properties deemed as "idle" and therefore eligible for redistriubtion to poor peasants. This process is in the very early stages, however, and it is uncertain how far Chavez plans to go with this. Ironically, Venezuela used to be regarded as one of the least class-divided countries in Latin America, and radical land reform would not even have been thinkable until the economic crisis of the 1990s.

Friction in Ecuador

It is interesting to contrast Venezuela's tacit support for the Colombian terrorist-rebels with Ecuador's policy of cooperating with the Colombian government. A leader of FARC seeking medical treatment in Ecuador was arrested and returned to Colombia a couple years ago. President Lucio Gutierrez surprised many people by shunning left-wing populism a la Hugo Chavez, since he too was a military officer who led a coup in 2000. In recent months, however, has angered opponents by trying to stack the Supreme Court in his favor, a heavy-handed maneuver reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt. The party of former President Roldos (PRE) has been putting increased pressure on the president, who has agreed to grant them cabinet and judicial posts. The Civic Convergence for Democracy has been protesting at the Supreme Court, demanding the resignation of the current justices, while a movement called "Zero Corruption" has been assembling at the same place in support of the justices. Ecuador is important to the United States because of the recent establishment of anti-narcotic infrastructure (airfields, radar) in that country, as well as because of the environmental value of the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon rain forest. Also, bananas.