Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

LATIN AMERICA: “Crisis Will Strengthen Forces Calling for Negotiations”

Interview with Heinz Dieterich

MEXICO CITY, Mar 4 2008 (IPS) - The political analyst who coined the phrase “21st century socialism” said the “war drums” sounding in South America’s Andean region since Colombian troops made an incursion into Ecuador to kill a senior FARC guerrilla commander will politically benefit the Venezuelan government and pressure the Colombian administration to tone down its belligerent stance.

Courtesy of Heinz Dieterich. Credit:

Courtesy of Heinz Dieterich. Credit:

“There will be a negotiated solution to this,” Heinz Dieterich, who teaches at the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Mexico City, said in an interview with IPS correspondent Diego Cevallos.

Dieterich, a Mexico-based German sociologist and economist who writes extensively on Latin America and has close ties to Venezuela’s leftwing President Hugo Chávez, discussed the possible repercussions of the military operation in which Colombia bombed a FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) camp within Ecuador on Saturday.

According to the analyst, the conflict, in which Ecuador and Venezuela have moved troops to their borders with Colombia, Ecuador has severed diplomatic relations with Colombia, and Venezuela has closed down its embassy in Bogotá and expelled Colombia’s ambassador, will gradually die down as a result of pressure from Latin American and European countries.

The crisis was triggered by the bombing raid on the FARC camp, and subsequent incursion by Colombian troops, in northern Ecuador. The insurgent leader who was dubbed the group’s “foreign minister”, Raúl Reyes, was the target of the attack, in which around 20 other rebels were killed as well.

Dieterich, who wrote “21st Century Socialism” about a current of thought that has been espoused by Chávez and by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, said the rightwing Colombian government of Álvaro Uribe and its biggest ally, the U.S. administration of George W. Bush, underestimated the international political cost of the operation against Reyes in Ecuador.

“They made a mistake, and that will be capitalised on by the forces that are seeking a peaceful solution to Colombia’s armed conflict,” he maintained.

IPS: Do you believe that the conflict will continue to escalate, and that a military skirmish between countries could occur, as President Chávez has warned?

HEINZ DIETERICH: I think the whole thing will be resolved through the Organisation of American States (which met Tuesday in Washington to discuss the issue), the Rio Group (a political forum comprised of 21 Latin American and Caribbean nations) or an ad hoc group made up of Italy, France and perhaps Mexico. The concerned parties will also negotiate.

Too much is at stake to prevent the Latin American region, and Europe as well, from having a decisive influence in coming up with a solution.

IPS: Uribe’s conservative government seems to be somewhat on its own in Latin America because of its military action in foreign territory. Will this influence the regional balance of forces or benefit centre-left or leftist governments?

HD: I believe Bogotá and its ally, Washington, made a serious political mistake and underestimated the cost of this action. They did not take into consideration the media reaction, the position that Chávez would take, and the firm stance that Correa would assume in Quito.

I would say that this mistake will benefit the South American integration aims of progressive countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela.

IPS: What can be expected now from the sectors that are calling for a negotiated solution to Colombia’s armed conflict?

HD: In general terms, the situation strengthens the forces that want a negotiated solution, in Europe, Latin America and Colombia itself. We must not forget that Reyes was the middleman through whom France was negotiating in its attempt to secure the release by the FARC of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt (the highest profile hostage held by the guerrillas).

They killed the French government’s contact, and this has clearly led the countries of Latin America and many European nations to believe that this question can no longer be left solely in the hands of Uribe and Washington, whose war strategy has become a potential threat to regional peace and stability.

IPS: President Chávez proposes that the FARC be declared a “belligerent force” (which would formally allow for an exchange of prisoners of war). Do the current circumstances favour that proposal?

HD: I don’t think that formula will prosper, but things are heading in the direction of negotiations, although some way must still be found to overcome the current polarisation without any of the parties involved losing too much in the process.

Colombia and Washington will never accept the declaration of the FARC as a belligerent force, although in my view that would be the right approach.

However, Uribe will feel isolated diplomatically, and as a result of that weakened position, he will have to tone down his belligerent stance.

IPS: The FARC mistreat the people they are holding captive, according to the hostages who were recently freed. That would not seem to facilitate recognition of belligerent status for the group. What is your view on this?

HD: The criteria for the definition of a ‘belligerent force’ are that they control territory, are a political organisation, and have an organised military force. All of those conditions exist.

The ethical dimension is another question. I think kidnapping is an unacceptable measure and is a serious mistake, but we can’t talk about the FARC’s human rights violations without also talking about the abuses committed by the government and its military forces.

IPS: Even though the attack on the FARC was not in his territory, Chávez would seem to be acting as if the operation had been carried out against him. Is he taking advantage of the circumstances for political gain?

HD: There is no doubt that the Venezuelan government is taking advantage of the circumstances to forward his policy aimed at regional integration, and also, of course, to strengthen himself within his own country, where he has been facing some problems lately. That’s normal, I think any other government would do that too.

IPS: President Uribe enjoys a high level of domestic support, and one of the highest popularity ratings in Latin America. Does this give him legitimacy to act as he did?

HD: The steadfastness with which Uribe acts cannot be explained by arguing that he only has the support of the oligarchy and the U.S. embassy. He has strong support within Colombian society, it would be absurd to deny that. Any government without that support would act differently. That factor goes a long way towards explaining Uribe’s current policies.

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