But there were some new kerfuffles at play in early March 2008: Ecuador claimed Colombia -- and U.S. ally President Alvaro Uribe -- violated its territorial integrity by striking at FARC commander Raul Reyes just across its border. Colombia's other flanking neighbor, Venezuela, quickly came to Ecuador's side, with Chavez loudly protesting the strike (which was a tactical coup for Colombia in the fight against the leftist guerrilla group). Colombia claimed that documentation of the long-suspected aid of Chavez to FARC (considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and EU) was found on a laptop among the strike victims -- to, allegedly, the tune of a $300 million gift from Chavez to FARC. Colombia wanted to have Chavez tried for funding the terrorist group at the International Criminal Court.
On March 6, 2008, Ortega joined with his pals in recalling the Nicaraguan ambassador.
The dispute, for a time, appeared to be steamrolling toward armed conflict. Venezuelan quickly massed tanks and troops along its border with Colombia, responding more harshly and quickly than the offended party, Ecuador. Francisco R. Rodriguez, chief economist for the Venezuelan National Assembly from 2000 to 2004, told the Council on Foreign Relations that Chavez's waning popularity at home could also be a likely reason for the display of bluster against Colombia:
- "Chavez needs conflict to shore up internal support for his regime. The government has not recovered from its defeat in the referendum elections in December. All opinion surveys indicate that later this year, it’s going to lose regional elections, lose a large number of governorships to the opposition. Chavez’s popularity has been declining; the economy is developing inflation. So in this context, Chavez is resorting to the well-known political strategy which he has used in the past, of creating an external enemy to strengthen his regime. In particular, to the extent that he can blame that external enemy for the state of economy, well that’s even much more to his advantage because that means voters won’t be blaming him and his administration."
Apparently newly emboldened after the shock to their command structure, FARC on March 6, 2008, bombed the Transandino pipeline in Putumayo province as Chavez threatened to seize the assets of Colombian companies operating in Venezuela.
The sticking point in resolving the conflict was that neither Correa nor Chavez expressed much concern in their failure to control the cross-border movements of FARC, since, frankly, they're not fundamentally opposed to the Marxist goals of the rebels. If the documentation about Chavez funding FARC -- which he claims is fabricated -- is indeed true, then he may be in trouble with the international community. But more likely, he'll take the heat from his own people, who may notice that he's in the business of bluster and sinking valuable funds into guerrilla wars while continuing to ignore the economic and crime problems at home.