If politics makes strange bedfellows, economics makes even odder ones. After years of escalating tensions that brought them to the brink of war (or so they claimed), Venezuela and Colombia are burying the hatchet.
Former Colombian Pres. Álvaro Uribe complained to anyone who would listen (including the global media and the UN Security Council) that Venezuela is harboring and abetting the Marxist narcoterrorist guerrilla group known as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) within Venezuela, funding and arming a group whose stated aim is to overthrow the Colombian government and is the world’s largest supplier of cocaine, resulting in violence that has displaced more than three million civilians. There is actually nearly overwhelming evidence to support this claim, in seized laptops certified by Interpol and anecdotal evidence by people I know in Venezuela whose ancestral land is now overrun by FARC.
Nevertheless, Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chávez retorted in typical bombastic fashion, accusing the Colombians of being Yankee stooges intent on assassinating him and/or invading Venezuela. On his Sunday broadcast Aló, Presidente, Chávez loudly ordered his generals to move troops to the Colombian border. “Sí, mi Presidente,” they answered. Ambassadors were called home and the world’s media went wild with brink-of-war stories. But satellite images showed no troop movements. Typical. It made for good television and big headlines, though.
Then Chávez put an embargo on imports from Colombia leading to shortages of food, clothes, cars and other necessities to already greatly underserved Venezuelans also facing shortages of electricity and water.
Another administration, another economic downturn, another tune.
In a testament of just how important Venezuela and Colombia are to each other, in his first week in office newly sworn-in Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos invited Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chávez to meet with him in the border town of Santa Marta to work out their differences. They met yesterday, Tuesday, 10 August 2010.
Despite Chávez’s typical showmanship of arriving with chavista red flowers for his host and wearing a flashy jacket of the Venezuelan flag, Colombia seems to have emerged the more victorious party in the negotiation’s admittedly modest achievements. Ambassadors will now return to each other’s capitals, military patrols along their border will be improved (ostensibly to stem transnational kidnappings and drug trafficking) and Venezuela has now promised to repay about $800 million in debts to Colombian companies.
The reason for this pragmatic rapprochement is simple: neither country can afford the economic hits their countries have taken in the slashing of trade between them. Furthermore, they have both already announced their intentions to seek another term: Santos for four more years starting in 2014, Chávez for another six years starting in 2012. So love or loathe each other, they could well be stuck with each other until 2018. And like any marriage of convenience based on the not-so-enlightened self-interest of the parties, they’re just going to have to make it work. Hence Chávez’s assurance to Santos: “Count on my friendship.”
But I wouldn’t bank on it. In the not-so-distant future one of them will face heavy domestic problems and need a bump in the polls. Then you should expect the terrorism and assassination accusations to return.
It may be a marriage of convenience, but don’t expect it to be a stable or a happy one.