Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ecuador

Julian Assange and Ecuador’s Gesture Politics

Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a spectacular example of the gesture politics beloved by the far left. It is gesture politics because Assange, an Australian citizen who has spent the last two months camping in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, will have to smuggle himself past a phalanx of armed police officers if he is to make it to Quito in one piece.

While Assange and his supporters are portraying his current status as the consequence of politically motivated persecution, the truth is considerably more sordid. Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after the British government decided to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual assault charges. To go by a recent op-ed penned for the Guardian by the dreadful Glenn Greenwald, you’d think that Sweden was a slightly milder version of North Korea, where prisoners are held in “oppressive pre-trial conditions,” and where someone like Assange could quickly find himself in American custody in order to face trial for espionage, given the release by Wikileaks of several thousand confidential American diplomatic and military cables.

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Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a spectacular example of the gesture politics beloved by the far left. It is gesture politics because Assange, an Australian citizen who has spent the last two months camping in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, will have to smuggle himself past a phalanx of armed police officers if he is to make it to Quito in one piece.

While Assange and his supporters are portraying his current status as the consequence of politically motivated persecution, the truth is considerably more sordid. Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after the British government decided to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual assault charges. To go by a recent op-ed penned for the Guardian by the dreadful Glenn Greenwald, you’d think that Sweden was a slightly milder version of North Korea, where prisoners are held in “oppressive pre-trial conditions,” and where someone like Assange could quickly find himself in American custody in order to face trial for espionage, given the release by Wikileaks of several thousand confidential American diplomatic and military cables.

It’s worth remembering that before hiding out in the Ecuadorean embassy, Assange acquired celebrity status in Britain, trading on his self-image as a courageous whistle-blower being hunted down by the vengeful Americans. (To amplify that point, pro-Assange demonstrators have taken to brandishing placards, lifted from a cover of Time magazine, that show Assange’s mouth gagged by an American flag.) For over a year, Assange very publicly lived in the enormous (and luxurious) country manor belonging to Vaughn Smith, a wealthy left-wing journalist and socialite, and the founder of The Frontline Club, a journalistic watering hole in central London. In January of this year, RT, a satellite news network controlled and financed by the Russian government, gave Assange his own show with the curious title The World Tomorrow, in which he interviewed the sorts of people known in marketing-speak as “high profile individuals.”

Those individuals included Hezbollah’s chieftain Hassan Nasrallah, whom Assange excitedly described as “one of the most extraordinary figures in the Middle East.” Another guest was ­– coincidence? – the left-wing President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who joked with his host, “Are you having a lot of fun with the interview, Julian? I am glad to hear that. Me too.”

Being a journalist in Correa’s Ecuador is, however, considerably less enjoyable. Since Correa’s election in 2007, which brought Ecuador into the “Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas,” a body controlled by Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez, media freedom in the country has been the subject of a sustained attack. A recent report by Freedom House noted that the closure, on June 6, of the independent station Radio Net was the fifth example of the shuttering of a media outlet within a fortnight. And a January item in the Washington Post about media censorship in Ecuador contained the following observation by a media freedom advocate:

“Ecuador is moving faster than anywhere else to restrict free expression,” said Cesar Ricaurte, director of the Andean Foundation for Media Study and Observation in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. “There is the discourse that leads to aggression, there are the lawsuits, there are laws to muzzle. And you also have a powerful propaganda system.”

The fact that Assange, depicted by much of the Western left as a poster child for the battle against government secrecy and censorship, can cozy up to a leader like Correa is only baffling if you believe that Wikileaks was promoting universal standards on the freedom of expression. The reality is that Wikileaks was, and remains, a project to present the U.S. as the ultimate rogue state, crushing press freedom in the name of imperial power. By contrast, those populist, “anti-imperialist” regimes who do actually censor the press are engaging in “resistance.” What we have here is not so much  a doctrine of moral equivalence between the United States and assorted autocracies, but a doctrine of moral superiority on the part of the latter.

Like the tyrants with whom he holds court, Assange is also a conspiracy theorist. And like all conspiracy theorists, he knows who really pulls the strings. A January 2011 telephone conversation between Assange and Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, a British satirical magazine, went like this:

Assange claimed that Private Eye was ‘part of a conspiracy led by the Guardian which included journalist David Leigh, editor Alan Rusbridger and John Kampfner from Index on Censorship – all of whom “are Jewish”.’

‘I pointed out that Rusbridger is not actually Jewish, but Assange insisted that he was “sort of Jewish” because he was related to David Leigh (they are brothers-in-law),’ wrote Hislop.

‘When I doubted whether his Jewish conspiracy would stand up against the facts, Assange suddenly conceded the point. “Forget the Jewish thing”.’

It is doubtful that Assange has forgotten the “Jewish thing,” particularly as one of his closest associates is Israel Shamir, a sinister formerly Jewish anti-Semite who used Wikileaks data in defense of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus. Should the stand-off at the London embassy end badly – and it may well do, given that Ecuador is clearly breaking British law – rest assured that we’ll be hearing dark mutterings involving the J word from Assange and his acolytes.

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Block This Sale

The bad ideas just keep coming. A few bloggers and news outlets picked up this week on the report that a Russian company wants to acquire a 51 percent stake in a U.S. uranium-mining operation. Four congressmen have written to Timothy Geithner asking him to block the sale, pointing out that if it goes through, a Russian corporation will control 20 percent of America’s uranium resources.

The sale should be blocked. The congressmen fear – with reason – that Russia could deliver uranium from the Wyoming mine to Iran, but that’s not the only consideration. Russia acquiring a 51 percent interest in a natural-resources operation creates unnecessary vulnerabilities for the nations involved. Multiple rounds of natural-gas extortion in Europe have made that clear. Russia behaves badly in its natural-resources dealings, using them alternately to build leverage with the wealthy and to strong-arm the struggling.

Russia and China are competing vigorously to acquire control of natural resources in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Besides its gas and oil investments in the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia, Russia has signed uranium-development agreements with Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Russians are also prospecting for oil and gas off Cuba’s West coast in the Gulf of Mexico, an enterprise unaffected by President Obama’s moratorium on U.S. drilling. (See here for an extended treatment of Russia’s oil and gas acquisitions.) Between them, Russia and China are gradually narrowing the resource options of the U.S., the EU, and Japan; if geopolitical shifts drive us to seek new suppliers, we will find, wherever we look, that the Asian giants are already there. We certainly don’t need to collude in their strategy by handing our own resources over to their companies.

In turning markedly against Japan last week over the Kuril Islands issue – which carries major implications for undersea resources – the Putin-Medvedev regime sent a very clear signal about where it is headed. If we invite Russia to control the commercial destiny of a significant amount of our natural resources, we will be buying political problems for the future. Our current ability to stand up to extortion is no excuse for courting it unnecessarily. The Russia factor makes this sale an issue of national security; it is inherently political and should be decided for political reasons. The sale should be blocked.

The bad ideas just keep coming. A few bloggers and news outlets picked up this week on the report that a Russian company wants to acquire a 51 percent stake in a U.S. uranium-mining operation. Four congressmen have written to Timothy Geithner asking him to block the sale, pointing out that if it goes through, a Russian corporation will control 20 percent of America’s uranium resources.

The sale should be blocked. The congressmen fear – with reason – that Russia could deliver uranium from the Wyoming mine to Iran, but that’s not the only consideration. Russia acquiring a 51 percent interest in a natural-resources operation creates unnecessary vulnerabilities for the nations involved. Multiple rounds of natural-gas extortion in Europe have made that clear. Russia behaves badly in its natural-resources dealings, using them alternately to build leverage with the wealthy and to strong-arm the struggling.

Russia and China are competing vigorously to acquire control of natural resources in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Besides its gas and oil investments in the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia, Russia has signed uranium-development agreements with Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Russians are also prospecting for oil and gas off Cuba’s West coast in the Gulf of Mexico, an enterprise unaffected by President Obama’s moratorium on U.S. drilling. (See here for an extended treatment of Russia’s oil and gas acquisitions.) Between them, Russia and China are gradually narrowing the resource options of the U.S., the EU, and Japan; if geopolitical shifts drive us to seek new suppliers, we will find, wherever we look, that the Asian giants are already there. We certainly don’t need to collude in their strategy by handing our own resources over to their companies.

In turning markedly against Japan last week over the Kuril Islands issue – which carries major implications for undersea resources – the Putin-Medvedev regime sent a very clear signal about where it is headed. If we invite Russia to control the commercial destiny of a significant amount of our natural resources, we will be buying political problems for the future. Our current ability to stand up to extortion is no excuse for courting it unnecessarily. The Russia factor makes this sale an issue of national security; it is inherently political and should be decided for political reasons. The sale should be blocked.

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New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

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Colombia Going Green?

The Wall Street Journal has a piece from the weekend pointing out the poll surge of the Colombian Green Party’s presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus. Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a former university professor, was mayor of Bogota for two non-consecutive terms. He gained fame in that office for walking around Bogota in a caped superhero costume, discouraging traffic violations by stationing mimes on street corners to embarrass drivers, and showering for a TV commercial to encourage water conservation.

Until early April, pundits had addressed the Mockus candidacy with the stock phrase “has trouble gaining voter interest outside of Bogota.” His Green Party run against Alvaro Uribe in 2006 netted him less than 5 percent of the national vote. But his surge with voters this month now has a poll showing that he would narrowly defeat Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, in a runoff between the two.

As this article indicates, the demographics of Mockus’s support are strikingly similar to Barack Obama’s in 2008. He galvanizes youth voters, independents, and the very wealthy. On the superficial trappings of the Green appeal, he is flawlessly Euro-Green: sunflower symbol, studied informality in attire and grooming, demure fist-pumping. The WSJ analysis that many Colombians are looking for something new is probably quite accurate; as Uribe’s tenure comes to an end, Colombians feel safer and less worried about internal security. Santos, in contrast to Mockus, is the scion of one of Colombia’s oldest and most entrenched political dynasties. For many voters, he reeks of a stuffy, irrelevant past.

How irrelevant that past truly is remains a question, however. The issue on which the Mockus candidacy still founders with many voters is his posture on “democratic security,” the Uribe-era policy expression for a tough stance on internal security and drug-fueled insurgencies like FARC. Mockus enthusiasts frame the dramatic improvement in internal security under Uribe in a somewhat disingenuous fashion, as if the situation simply changed on its own while Uribe was off menacing civil rights. But there is no question that Uribe’s policies and actions are what have wrought the transformation.

In addressing the particulars of democratic security policy, Mockus is alternately categorical and temporizing — in exactly the wrong places. His Green Party platform affirms without caveat, for example, that he would never pursue Colombian insurgents across the border as Uribe’s forces did in 2008. This would naturally be a green light for FARC to consolidate cross-border bases, something Hugo Chavez has been very accommodating about in neighboring Venezuela. On the question of holding a dialogue with FARC, however, Mockus deems it merely “unlikely” unless the guerrillas change their language and cease being “slaves to kidnapping.”

It’s not that Mockus appears to have any connection with Chavez or Castro, like such entrenched or aspiring presidents-for-life as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Manuel Zelaya, lately ousted from Honduras. But policies like those embraced by Mockus quickly become prostrate and ineffective in the face of guerrilla aggression. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez has ramped up a war of words against Juan Manuel Santos over the past week, calling him a “threat to the region” and predicting war if he wins the election. There’s no doubt whose policies Chavez expects to dislike. When Colombians go to the polls on May 30, we can hope they will remember what it has taken to transform their domestic-security environment — and why they now have the sense of political leisure to take flyers on theatrical boutique candidates.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece from the weekend pointing out the poll surge of the Colombian Green Party’s presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus. Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a former university professor, was mayor of Bogota for two non-consecutive terms. He gained fame in that office for walking around Bogota in a caped superhero costume, discouraging traffic violations by stationing mimes on street corners to embarrass drivers, and showering for a TV commercial to encourage water conservation.

Until early April, pundits had addressed the Mockus candidacy with the stock phrase “has trouble gaining voter interest outside of Bogota.” His Green Party run against Alvaro Uribe in 2006 netted him less than 5 percent of the national vote. But his surge with voters this month now has a poll showing that he would narrowly defeat Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, in a runoff between the two.

As this article indicates, the demographics of Mockus’s support are strikingly similar to Barack Obama’s in 2008. He galvanizes youth voters, independents, and the very wealthy. On the superficial trappings of the Green appeal, he is flawlessly Euro-Green: sunflower symbol, studied informality in attire and grooming, demure fist-pumping. The WSJ analysis that many Colombians are looking for something new is probably quite accurate; as Uribe’s tenure comes to an end, Colombians feel safer and less worried about internal security. Santos, in contrast to Mockus, is the scion of one of Colombia’s oldest and most entrenched political dynasties. For many voters, he reeks of a stuffy, irrelevant past.

How irrelevant that past truly is remains a question, however. The issue on which the Mockus candidacy still founders with many voters is his posture on “democratic security,” the Uribe-era policy expression for a tough stance on internal security and drug-fueled insurgencies like FARC. Mockus enthusiasts frame the dramatic improvement in internal security under Uribe in a somewhat disingenuous fashion, as if the situation simply changed on its own while Uribe was off menacing civil rights. But there is no question that Uribe’s policies and actions are what have wrought the transformation.

In addressing the particulars of democratic security policy, Mockus is alternately categorical and temporizing — in exactly the wrong places. His Green Party platform affirms without caveat, for example, that he would never pursue Colombian insurgents across the border as Uribe’s forces did in 2008. This would naturally be a green light for FARC to consolidate cross-border bases, something Hugo Chavez has been very accommodating about in neighboring Venezuela. On the question of holding a dialogue with FARC, however, Mockus deems it merely “unlikely” unless the guerrillas change their language and cease being “slaves to kidnapping.”

It’s not that Mockus appears to have any connection with Chavez or Castro, like such entrenched or aspiring presidents-for-life as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Manuel Zelaya, lately ousted from Honduras. But policies like those embraced by Mockus quickly become prostrate and ineffective in the face of guerrilla aggression. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez has ramped up a war of words against Juan Manuel Santos over the past week, calling him a “threat to the region” and predicting war if he wins the election. There’s no doubt whose policies Chavez expects to dislike. When Colombians go to the polls on May 30, we can hope they will remember what it has taken to transform their domestic-security environment — and why they now have the sense of political leisure to take flyers on theatrical boutique candidates.

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Chavez Agonistes

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

Hugo Chavez is reportedly refusing to take phone calls from Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Uribe’s foreign minister can’t get a shout back from his Venezuelan counterpart either. The stonewalling from Caracas comes in the wake of Chavez’s other call on November 8, in his weekly media program, for the Venezuelan army to “prepare for war.” Chavez has been making this kind of call for several months, but last week he also moved 15,000 troops to the border with Colombia. Uribe has responded with 12,000 troops deployed on his side of the border and a request for the UN Security Council and the Organization of American States to rein in Chavez.

The issue, according to Chavez, is the October 30 agreement by Colombia to allow U.S. forces to use its military bases for counter-narcotics operations. Contrary to Chavez’s formulation of the matter, this does not involve a new introduction of American forces into the region. Our forces operated from Ecuador until August 2009 and continue to operate from El Salvador. Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, reelected in April after doing a “Chavez” on his country’s constitution, decided to let the basing agreement with the U.S. expire in August, and we negotiated the agreement to use Colombian bases this summer. So why is Chavez so frantic about what is, in effect, a shift of bases rather than a change in U.S. military posture?

Because he knows U.S. forces fighting the drug war in Colombia would have a pretext to pursue FARC guerrillas into Venezuela — as FARC was pursued by Colombian troops into Ecuador in 2008 — and that from Colombia, as opposed to Ecuador, American forces would be in a position to do so. It’s merely sound analysis to project that with U.S. forces using multiple Colombian bases, FARC will be increasingly pushed across borders. Venezuela’s is already hospitable; it would be extremely inconvenient to Chavez to try to close it, especially given the reliance of Hezbollah, the protégé of his great friend Iran, on its ties to FARC and the drug trade. Such developments would also interfere with Chavez’s own policy of supporting FARC as a means of weakening the center-right, U.S.-friendly Uribe government.

Ironically, the preference of many in the Obama administration for stand-off, cross-border raids and aerial attacks — as demonstrated in Pakistan — only strengthens the perception in Central America that the shift to Colombian bases will herald U.S. intervention of that kind. The U.S. preoccupation with forcing Honduras to take Manuel Zelaya back has reinforced, meanwhile, the impression that Obama will act in Latin America with a reflexive, high-handed cynicism.

Chavez would be quite correct, even without these factors, that U.S. forces based in Colombia are an impediment to his regional plans. He fears attack because he knows a valid pretext exists for attacking his territory. His antagonism should not stop us, but we had better be prepared for the actions it will prompt, and keep our own purposes and strategy clearly in mind.

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The Israel of Latin America

Just in case you were wondering what Hugo Chavez thinks about Israel these days, the AP reports today that he is now using the Jewish state in his rhetoric against Colombia. According to reports, the Columbian government, which has been fighting a decades-long war against cocaine warlords, recently took out one of their leaders in a cross-border operation in Ecuador. Chavez’ response was to call Colombia “the Israel of Latin America,” and to order tanks and thousands of troops to the Colombian border. (For what it’s worth, it does in fact seem that not only the U.S., but also Israel, are giving the Colombian government a lot of support.)

South America, one of the only continents that has managed without international warfare for a long time, may be about to heat up. Chavez, who has been busily turning Venezuela into a bona fide axis-of-evil state, has recently upped the anti-Semitic rhetoric, causing thousands of Jews to flee the country. But two questions must be asked: First: Why is Ecuador playing host to anti-Colombian rebels? And second: Why is the West waiting until Chavez does something really bad, like attacking Colombia, before taking him for the menace that he is?

CORRECTION: This post had not one but two significant errors. First, Colombia does not border El Salvador, but Ecuador, where the raid took place. Second, I consistently misspelled Colombia as Columbia, which is a fine university but does not necessarily have the problem with cocaine that the homonymous South American country is dealing with. Thanks to those who quickly commented.

Just in case you were wondering what Hugo Chavez thinks about Israel these days, the AP reports today that he is now using the Jewish state in his rhetoric against Colombia. According to reports, the Columbian government, which has been fighting a decades-long war against cocaine warlords, recently took out one of their leaders in a cross-border operation in Ecuador. Chavez’ response was to call Colombia “the Israel of Latin America,” and to order tanks and thousands of troops to the Colombian border. (For what it’s worth, it does in fact seem that not only the U.S., but also Israel, are giving the Colombian government a lot of support.)

South America, one of the only continents that has managed without international warfare for a long time, may be about to heat up. Chavez, who has been busily turning Venezuela into a bona fide axis-of-evil state, has recently upped the anti-Semitic rhetoric, causing thousands of Jews to flee the country. But two questions must be asked: First: Why is Ecuador playing host to anti-Colombian rebels? And second: Why is the West waiting until Chavez does something really bad, like attacking Colombia, before taking him for the menace that he is?

CORRECTION: This post had not one but two significant errors. First, Colombia does not border El Salvador, but Ecuador, where the raid took place. Second, I consistently misspelled Colombia as Columbia, which is a fine university but does not necessarily have the problem with cocaine that the homonymous South American country is dealing with. Thanks to those who quickly commented.

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Iran in Latin America

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

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