Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Venezuela-Columbia-Ecuador: A Melodrama for International Law

My favorite part of the book Animal Farm is the last section, when the pigs all join in a pleasant meal in the farmhouse they now call their own. To those watching from outside, there appears to be little difference between the pigs and the humans they succeeded. See George Orwell, Animal Farm. ("Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." Id.) It was with that in mind that I have been watching two sets of rising porcine leaders of Latin America become so much like the American farmers they so despise, that from a distance it is hard to tell them apart from Americans.

So let us look carefully at the "telenovela" that passes for the politics of Northwestern Latin America. See Ecuador Seeks Censure of Columbia, BBC New Online, March 5, 2008 for a recent version of events, as good as most others. On Saturday, the Columbian military successfully killed a high ranking member of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia), the leftist nemesis of the Columbian government in a long running civil war. Depending on who one believes, either the Columbian military accomplished this feat in the course of an incursion a couple of miles into Ecuadorian territory, or fired into Ecuadorian territory from Columbian airspace. In any case, the damage was done. Columbia is known to have a center right government. Ecuador is said to have a left (perhaps far left) of center leader who has enjoyed playing bad boy with the institutions of the developed world. Venezuela has Hugo Chavez, who has oil and a restive population (though he benefits from a sometimes astute guidance from Cuba). The Colombians are closely allied to the United States, which has invested much money n that state. Venezuela and Ecuador are either independent or tied to a circule of left leaning central and Latin American States who have banded together to oppose the policies and hegemonic tendencies of the United States in particular and the developed states in general.

Thus the players and the precipitating events. Ecuador initially protested. The COlumbians made appropriate noises, and things seemed to lumber on their way to resolution in the usual manner. But there was a significant fly in the ointment. Among the booty retrieved by the Colombians was a FARC computer that appeared to suggest that Venezuela (and perhaps Ecuador) had been arming and financing FARC for some time. Ecuador Seeks Censure of Columbia. The tacit support offered by Ecuador and Venezuela to FARC had been an open secret, now made unavoidable by the computer revelation. See Relations Between Columbia, Venezuela and Ecuador, Peoples' Daily Online, March 4, 2008. The announcement of this discovery significantly ratcheted the rhetoric and the melodrama. Ecuador and Venezuela denounced the discovery, pulled their top diplomats form Bogotá and mobilized their troops along the Columbian border. Ecuador now seeks a condemnation of Columbia for the violation of its territory. Columbia seeks to bring genocide charges against Chavez and Venezuela for the financing of FARC's terror campaigns in Columbia. Venezuela seeks a distraction from the increasingly embarrassing position it is maintaining as both friend to FARC and honest broker between FRAC and the Columbian state. See Hand of Chvez in Hostage Release, BBC News Online, Feb. 27, 2008 ("Things have gone from bad to worse since then, with Mr Chavez accusing his Colombian counterpart of being a pawn of the American empire and threatening to break all ties with Colombia." Id.). And, in ant case, the Ecuadorian President has a bone to pick with the Americans and the World Bank. This is personal, if only indirectly so. Ego has always been the hobgoblin of petty politics. See Larry Catá Backer,Advancing the Application of Odious Debt Doctrine in Ecuador: Unconscionable Terms, Illegitimate Debt and the Obligation to Repay Sovereign Debt, May 29, 2007.

After much saber rattling, and an appropriate show of force by the militaries of the peace loving peoples of Ecuador and Venezuela to show their contempt for the Columbian running dog of the American "Empire" (such a direct confrontation lies outside the scope of their understanding of honor but within the ambit of the practicalities of their power) Ecuador and Venezuela have begun to stand down their forces. But not before Mr. Chavez indulged in a little bit of Jew baiting. It seems that a certain sort of Latin leader cannot resist the ancient impulse to Jew bait. The disease of 1492 extends well beyond its European originators. Now it is the turn of a mestizo son of his own personal oppression to indulge in the great game. And so how best to insult the Colombians? By calling them Jews! ""The Colombian government has become the Israel of Latin America," an agitated Chavez said, reiterating his criticism of the Israel Defense Forces' strikes on Palestinian militants. 'We aren't going to permit Colombia to become the Israel of these lands. ... Uribe, we aren't going to permit you.'" Chavez, Columbia Has Become the Israel of Latin America, Haaretz.com, March 6, 2008; Matthew Weaver, The Iran and Israel of Latin America? Is South America on the Brink of War?, March 5, 2008 The Guardian Newsblog. And the Americans cannot resist getting involved as well. "The FARC has long been deeply engaged in drug trafficking. Last night, a senior U.S. official said the group may be trying to smuggle the radioactive material into the United States to sell to terrorist groups." Tom Gjelten, Columbia Levels Charges after Raiding Ecuador, NPR, March 5, 2008.

This brings us back to the pigs and the farmers. Just three observations. First, this little turn suggests the fallacies of the "Americans are responsible for all our trouble" excuses that has served the interests of a number of elites in a variety of places from time to time. Not that this may not be true sometimes. But not all the time. And not directly. In this case, the Ecuadorians and Venezuelans sought to exploit a situation for their own benefit. And not necessarily fr their national interests. Caudillismo lurks in the background.
Correa, 44, in office little more than a year, has won praise from Ecuadoreans before early elections that must be held later this year if, as widely expected, a new constitution is approved in a referendum in the second half of 2008. ‘Ecuadoreans will unite to support Correa's firm leadership against a foreign threat ... this will put a rubber stamp on his re-election,’ said Paulina Recalde, a pollster with Perfiles de Opinion (Opinion Profile) in Quito.
Alonso Soto, Ecuador's Correa Boosts Standing In Colombia Crisis, Reuters, March 6, 2008 (http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN05603456). It is a wonder that Correa, so quick to demand an apolgy for a minor incursion into Ecuadorian territory is less willing to apologize, in turn, for giving shelter to a group whose human rights record is hardly stellar. But then form can be vaunted over substance--FARC, after all, is not a state actor. Just a bunch of people enjoying the benefits of travel abroad.

Second, international terrorism has distorted politics in a significant way. Before September 11, 2001. FARC was just another group of disgruntled people seeking to eliminate one set of elites and replace them with another. For that purpose they did very bad things and made some very naughty friends. After September 11, 2001, the complexion of their activities changed dramatically, both with respect to their objectives and their methods. Just as globalization has brought states closer together--for good or ill, globalization has also brought insurgent groups together. Globalization of those networks has substantially broadened the scope and character of the actions of any of them. Tactical coordination ad cooperation opens the possibility that even the most innocuous criminal group can act to further the political aims of an ally. The local bandit has become the international terrorist. So, paradoxically, Americans will tend to be involved in even the most innocuous international activities.

Third, international law has become another weapon in the political arsenal of states. Both Columbia and Venezuela have sought to invoke the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for the prosecution of the activities of iuts adversary. Are we coming closer to an age in which there is direct judicial supervision of political contests? Perhaps it is coming to that. The conflation of the hungers of politics and the methods of judges will prove a potent technique of power in the coming years. The form of juridification is meant to add legitimacy to the tactics of politics. Yet the parties ought to beware. The creation of a judge for actions once undertaken freely will represent a real transfer of power from the political to the judicial, and from the nation state to a global actor. And that global actor may not share the political hidden agendas of those who invoke its power.

In any case, it seems that the Venezuelans, Columbians, Ecuadorians and Americans have all sat down to party in the farmhouse. They argue vigorously, but is now harder to distinguish Chavez or Correa from Bush. Now that is funny, indeed.

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