Hugo’s War: Or, the War that Never Happened


What if you declared a war and your enemies did not show up?

On March 1, Colombian military forces pursued Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas over the border into neighboring Ecuador. The operation resulted in the death of FARC deputy commander Raul Reyes and sixteen other guerillas. The killing of Reyes, part of the seven-member FARC secretariat, is arguably the most damaging blow struck by President Alvaro Uribe in his five-year campaign to crush the Marxist movement which has terrorized Colombia and the region for decades.

The specifics of the attack have not been made public. However, air-power was involved and Reyes’ location inside Ecuador was determined from a satellite phone he was tricked into using. Joshua Goodman reporting for Bloomberg writes, “President Alvaro Uribe spoke to Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa after the operation concluded. Correa, who has criticized cross-border incursions by Colombia’s military in the past, confirmed that combat took place on Ecuadorian soil.”

In the hours and days following the event, relations between Columbian and Ecuador deteriorated as both countries withdrew their ambassadors. Ecuador deployed 3,200 troops to the border which proceeded to capture five FARC terrorists. Yet it was the psychotic behavior of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez which pushed this from a dispute between neighboring states to a regional war.

Chavez went off the deep end, proclaiming his solidarity with the terrorist struggle of the FARC. As the situation escalated, Chavez massed ten battalions, including tanks—approximately 9,000 troops—to the border. Uribe responded in a more measured manner, refusing to give in to Chavez’s theatrics and chest-pounding. Less than two weeks after the incident the three men shook hands. As reported in The Washington Post:

US intelligence hopes that Reyes’ death will unleash a power struggle and possible rift within Farc ranks, especially as the ageing rebel commander Manuel Marulanda is reportedly seriously ill and being cared for on an estate in Venezuela near the Colombian border.

Marulanda’s presence is believed to be a major reason that Mr Chavez moved 10,000 men and tanks to the Colombian border – to warn off Bogota from another cross-border attack.

Another senior Farc leader Ivan Rios was killed by his bodyguard on Friday, further fuelling hopes of a split in the guerrilla movement.

There are two stories related to this war that never happened. The first has to do with documents and money, a paper trail. The second has to do with Venezuelan domestic politics, the failure of the Bolivarian revolution.

In addition to killing Reyes, the raid netted three laptops. If the information contain within these computers is genuine and not a fabrication, the evidence is damning towards FARC, Chavez, and Correa. The Washington Post reports:

In the documents already discovered, the Colombians say, FARC chiefs admit to killing the sister of former President Cesar Gaviria and to planting a 2003 car bomb that killed 36 people at a club where Bogota’s upper crust gathered for squash and drinks.

Cocaine sales are discussed in other files, and a plan is floated to borrow money from Libya for the possible purchase of surface-to-air missiles, officials say. Uribe interprets several documents as indicating Chavez was planning to give the FARC $300 million.

Carlos Alberto Montaner opines in The Miami Herald:

It happens, however, that the incident between Colombia and Ecuador cannot be settled with a handshake. If Interpol determines that the three computers found in the camp of Raúl Reyes, the FARC’s second-in-command, are not a fabrication of the Colombian government of President Alvaro Uribe but really belonged to the narcoterrorist comandante killed by Colombian bombs, the International Crimes Court must take up the case, investigate the events in depth and punish the guilty.

The sentiment was expressed with total authority by Diego Arria, former U.N. Security Council president and an expert in these affairs: “The fact that the president of Colombia . . . denounced the presidents of Venezuela and Ecuador as collaborators with the terrorists who are holding 700 people hostage cannot be overlooked, no matter how many handshakes or forced smiles.”

True enough. The documents found in Reyes’ computer tell of funding the FARC’s activities with Venezuelan money. No less than 300 million petrodollars.

They describe the complicity of the government of President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, who assigned one of his principal ministers to be the liaison with the narcoguerrillas and offered to remove from the border any soldiers who interfered with the rebels’ work.

A missing dimension of much of the reporting has been a failure to examine what is happening inside Venezuela. Critics of Chavez note this attempt at war was conducted in hopes of increasing patriotism and the notions that the country is under attack from outside forces. For increasing numbers of Venezuelans, the failures of Chavez’s revolution are becoming apparent. Crime is increasing and Venezuela is experiencing food shortages that should be unheard of in a country with such astounding wealth. Price controls have not managed to decrease the inflation below 20%, the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.


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