Monday, March 10, 2008

I Start Walkin' Your Way...

Saying it has been a wild news week in Colombia would be an understatement. Saying that things have actually been wild in Colombia would be quite the opposite. Despite the shocking headlines of Colombia being “on the brink of war” and statements about “sabers” and the like, life in Colombia this past week was essentially the same as it has always been.

I did find it interesting to read the headlines each day on Yahoo! News or CNN.com and find out what had happened politically and how it was being sold to readers. Granted, if this had been a year ago and I was reading such headlines about my future home I would have been concerned. Being in the midst of it, however, was a whole other story; mainly that there wasn’t much in that midst.

A little background to put this into perspective: The FARC have been terrorizing many in Colombia for decades. They are one of the biggest para-military groups in the region and are very leftist and get their money through the cocaine trade and ransom from kidnappings. The current president, Alvaro Uribe, has made significant strides to limit the FARC and their activities.

The problem is that other countries in the region, namely Venezuela and Ecuador, have not. This could be due to the fact that the people of these countries were not, until recently affected by their activities, or that the leaders may or may not have been getting monetary kick-backs.

When Colombia stormed a mile or so across the Colombia-Ecuador border to attack a FARC camp in the jungle, and incidentally killing one the top FARC leaders, this upset a lot of people. The only ones who should have realistically been upset would have been Ecuador, whose border was crossed without permission. Venezuela, or more accurately, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, lead the charge and made a big stink, often times speaking for the Ecuadorian president. (To make a point, I can’t even tell you without looking it up what the Ecuadorian president’s name is since he had such little voice in all this with Chavez shooting his mouth off all over the place. The Ecuadorian president's name is Correa - but I did have to look it up.)

Uribe issued an apology saying something along the lines of “we will not invade another country without permission again…so long as they are not harboring terrorists at their borders.” I love the added clause which, in my opinion, is completely justifiable.

In the mean time two things are happening. First is that the contents of a laptop found at this FARC camp is being analyzed and accusations are flying all over about all kinds of people and connections, namely that Chavez was funding the FARC. Ah! No wonder he is getting all hot and bothered over this. The second thing that is going on is the Chavez keeps running is mouth and orders troops to the border. He eventually closed the border for a few days.

The thing about this border, and why it sounds worse in the media than it really is, is that there is nothing there, really. Now, I have never been to this area of the country myself, and I probably never will, but I have not found one person who has either. If you look at a political map of Colombia, you will see that most of the population resides in cities or towns along the Andean Mountain range, mostly running north and south along the western half of the country. A whole bunch of Colombia is unpopulated. This includes a lot of the Venezuelan border. (This is also true on the other side in Venezuela!) In all seriousness, Chavez could have secretly had his troops cross the border and not man people would have known about it – since no one lives there!

So, really, it was a very safe threat to make. It sounded really intense and volatile to the international community and media, who are used to having people living near borders, and yet those in the involved countries collectively shrugged.

Well, the politicians didn’t shrug, just the rest of us. (Except for Ecuador’s nameless president who didn’t get many sound bytes out of a situation involving his country. He probably shrugged a little.) There was some head shaking too over Chavez. Every taxi driver I talked to, out of curiosity over their opinion mostly, told me they think he is certifiably nuts. This is true of the common people in Venezuela as well, where Chavez has cut off trade and thus dairy and meat products to his own people. His approval rating is dangerously low – as in overthrow low.

(Another reason Chavez may be having a bad taste in his mouth, so to speak against Colombia, many feel is out of jealousy. Colombia is U.S. backed AND has a lot of the rest of the world more willing to associate with them than Chavez or Ecuador. Some countries, Cuba and Castro most recently, like to throw the old "America trying to run the world" card around. However, in this situation it is important to remember that the U.S. does have a say because they fund a big part of the Colombian military and have since about 2000 because of the increased effect the narco-trafficking was having on the U.S., on U.S. soil. This does concern them.)

Well, this past weekend, all these fine leaders met in the Dominican Republic and signed a peace statement agreeing to play nice. Uribe also extended his apology again, reiterating his initial clause.

In unrelated but ironic news, with the “threat of war” gone, the good people of Cali decided to riot at a soccer game between the cities two major teams and major rivals. (Think Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings x 10 and then remember that it is soccer and we are in a Latin American country.) The riot resulted in two dead and a bunch more injured including a stabbed pregnant lady.

But at least we aren’t at war, right?

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