Crisis deepens as Venezuela closes Colombian border
Henry Orrego, AFP, March 4, 2008
BOGOTA (AFP) - A crisis between three Latin American nations worsened Tuesday when Venezuela said it was closing its border with Colombia, even as frantic diplomatic talks to stave off war were about to begin.
Venezuelan Agriculture Minister Elia Jaua said "we have taken some measures, like closing the border," according to the Colombian television station Caracol.
The announcement aggravated a stand-off between Colombia and leftwing neighbors Venezuela and Ecuador that was triggered by a Colombian raid inside Ecuador to kill a senior FARC rebel commander.
An emergency session of the 34-member Organization of American States was to take place in Washington later Tuesday in a bid to quell the rising tensions.
There are fears an escalation of the dispute between Bogota, the United States' main ally in South America, and the two other nations -- both run by fiercely anti-US leftwing leaders and both OPEC members -- could engulf the region.
Venezuela and Ecuador have already ordered thousands of troops to their borders with Colombia, and ordered Bogota's ambassadors out of their countries amid sharpening rhetoric.
Colombia initially apologized to Ecuador for the pre-dawn Sunday raid on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia camp that killed Raul Reyes, considered the number two leader of the decades-old Marxist insurgency.
But it said it was justified in making the attack, and claimed documents recovered from rebel laptops proved the FARC had links with Quito and Caracas and had "transnational terrorist ambitions."
Ecuador has angrily rejected the allegations, and severed diplomatic relations with Bogota over the "succession of events and unfriendly accusations."
Ecuarian President Rafael Correa was to visit Brazil, Latin America's biggest diplomatic power, later Tuesday to present his grievances and drum up support. He was also to visit Peru, Venezuela, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
Venezuela has also denied Bogota's allegations, which included a charge that President Hugo Chavez paid the FARC 300 million dollars, calling them "absolute lies."
But Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Tuesday said his country was going to ask the International Criminal Court to try Chavez for "sponsoring and financing genocide" by allegedly providing the money.
Colombia has said its raid on the rebel camp was an "autonomous operation," but admitted US intelligence was crucial.
Washington since 2000 has supplied Bogota with five billion dollars under Plan Colombia, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking.
Much of the money has gone to combating the FARC, which profits from the narcotics trade and kidnappings, and which is considered a "terrorist organization" by the US and the EU.
Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro weighed in on the matter Tuesday with an article in the state-run media accusing the United States of complicity in the "monstrous crime" in Ecuador.
"They were Yankee bombs guided by Yankee satellites," he wrote.
US officials have called for calm and urged the Organization of American States to resolve the crisis through dialogue.
The AP reported on March 4, 2008 in an article by FRANK BAJAK:
Several Latin American leftist leaders have suggested the U.S. was intimately involved in executing the raid that killed Reyes. Colombian military officials have said U.S. satellite intelligence and communications intercepts have been key to putting the FARC on the defensive.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command would neither confirm or deny American military participation. "We do provide intelligence support to partner nations but I can't get into details on operations," Jose Ruiz told the AP from Miami.