Venezuelan strongman and self-proclaimed “21st-century socialist” Hugo Chávez has broken diplomatic relations with Colombia after Colombia accused Venezuela of continued support for the Marxist FARC guerrilla army.
Accusations against Venezuela are nothing new, with the U.S., Spain and other nations having denounced Chávez’s support of the FARC and other terrorist groups (such as the Basque ETA) before. The evidence presented by the Colombian government today reveals that Chávez continues to harbor FARC training camps and leadership groups inside Venezuela. Neither Chávez nor his ambassador to the OAS denied the allegations; they simply railed at Colombia for denouncing Venezuela’s interference in its internal affairs.
The reaction of the Obama administration to this latest charge against Chávez will be revealing. So far, the administration has preferred not to speak up while Chávez harbors terrorists who continue to traffic in narcotics and who perpetrate murder and mayhem in Colombia.
This dispute is not one in which the United States can remain silent or neutral. One country, Venezuela, is ruled by an anti-American despot who is allied with Cuba’s Castro brothers and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; who has censored the media and jailed political opponents; who has bought Russian and other weapons in the billions of dollars; and who has undermined U.S. interests from Bolivia and Ecuador to Nicaragua and Honduras.
The other country is a friend and ally that, with the help of the United States, has decimated Marxist terrorist armies and right-wing paramilitaries; reduced narcotics trafficking; rebuilt its economy, creating hundreds of thousands of decent jobs; and simultaneously improved security and human-rights conditions in every corner of Colombia.
The U.S. must side clearly and strongly with Colombia; that is the best way to avoid this crisis from escalating into a violent one. Chávez is a hooligan who will see any wavering on the part of the U.S. as a sign of weakness. It is time for the administration to support — and be seen as supporting — the friends of the United States and confronting those like Chávez who damage our interests and call us enemies.
– Otto J. Reich served President Bush from 2001 to 2004, first as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere and later in the National Security Council.