Now that the tensions in South America have eased, Colombia and the United States find themselves more isolated than before.
The dispute erupted when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe sent his forces into Ecuador to attack Colombian rebels without informing the Ecuadorian government beforehand.
Rafael Correa, the president of Ecuador, charged this action violated international law. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticized President Uribe for acting as a lackey of the U.S. government. Ecuador and Venezuela mobilized troops on Latin America’s border. President Bush vowed support for Colombia.
Correa and Chavez then got into a heated exchange with Uribe at the Latin American leadership summit in the Dominican Republic.
On hearing this, on the eve of International Women’s Day, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner observed, not without irony, that women were accused of being emotional, but emotion was what she was observing in the actions of the masculine presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. The audience laughed, and her remark helped defuse the crisis. Thanks to the good offices of the presidents of the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Guatemala, the war threat ended.
But in its wake, several things have become clear.
First, armed incursions from one country into another, such as Colombia’s invasion of Ecuador, are now off-limits for the leaders of Latin American countries.
Second, Colombia’s main guerrilla group, the FARC, has discredited itself with its own recourse to violence. Its use of kidnappings has alienated Colombian society at all levels.
Third, the nations of the region now better understand the need to broker a negotiated solution to Colombia’s long civil war. The military solution promoted by Uribe and the United States would only prolong the brutality of the war and threaten the stability of the region.
Fourth, the isolation of the Uribe government at the regional level became obvious, as did concern about his alliance with Washington. Colombia is perceived as Washington’s proxy, seeking to stop the advance not only of progressive politics but the political and economic integration of South America.
Fifth, whoever becomes the next president of the United States will have to deal with a very different Latin America than the one U.S. leaders are used to. The free-market economic policies dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have come at a painful cost to most people in the region. Progressive governments have shunned those policies and are offering popular alternatives.
Colombia and the United States are now the odd ones out.
Cecilia Zarate-Laun is the program director of the Colombia Support Network, based in Madison, Wis. She can be reached at email@example.com.