The bombing of bridges on the Táchira border by the Venezuelan Army speaks for itself. Is a more aggressive, provocative and crass act conceivable?
The trouble is that there will be more, because these events are part of a border escalation in which Chávez is engaged, as his homeland situation deteriorates. Colombia must anticipate; be firm, but calm; not fall into traps; and sadly, not expect effusive solidarity from an international community that prefers to remain aloof and neutral.
It is unfortunate that such blatant acts of aggression raise only ambiguous reactions or passive complicity. Especially from the continent, itself. Who knows which is more disconcerting: the silence of UNASUR or the balancing act of the United States?
Although muteness, in response to President Chávez’s outrageous insults, warlike threats and provocative actions, is surprising from an organization purporting to support peace in South America (Colombia is a member), the attitude of our great ally of the North is nothing short of outrageous. Washington is not simply ignoring the situation, but has sought to regard the behaviors of both governments as equal.
Earlier this week, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley called upon Bogotá and Caracas to "reduce the level of rhetoric," as if both were speaking the same language. The next day, gringo ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, asserted the desire for a "better relationship" with the Chávez government.
While Colombia endured provocation of its president and ministers with stoic discretion, official spokesmen of the United States – our partner in the agreement regarding the bases that have caused us so much trouble with our neighbors - have the gall to offer themselves as mediators and to disengage themselves from the international crisis. “We certainly don't think this is about the U.S.,” Mr. Crowley actually said.
The symptoms of this kind of gringo abandonment are diverse and growing. On Wednesday, a group of Congressional Democrats close to Obama asked him to cut even more military aid to Colombia (which has already been reduced by 40 percent over the past three years). And last week, the State Department advised against visiting Colombia, citing its danger. Not only have they brought the situation to NAFTA, which is so crucial to domestic trade, but now they are dealing a low blow to tourism.
That’s how it goes, some say. "This is how the devil pays those who serve him well,” says another. And without stooping to anti-imperialist whining, it seems that Washington's attitude toward the crisis, coupled with thinly disguised coldness from the White House toward President Uribe, evokes a whole tradition of leaving allies out on a limb – deserting, without shame or embarrassment, those who fought for them.
Historical examples abound: Chiang Kai-shek in China, when he began losing the war with Mao Tse-tung; the successive rulers of South Vietnam, until the final defeat; Lon Nol, the faithful ally in Cambodia; the democratic regimes of Central America, who never received the promised post-conflict assistance. Next up for eviction promises to be the ruler of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, who was selected by the U.S. to preside over an unwinnable war and who has already been disqualified as inept and corrupt.
Author Patrick Buchanan calls this "the American form of abandonment," according to which his country, when it is about to throw an ally to the wolves, follows an old ritual: "We discover that the man we formally supported was never morally fit to be our partner.” As Henry Kissinger said, “In this world, it is sometimes dangerous to be America's enemy, but being a friend is fatal."
While we are now discovering how expensive this friendship can be, it is critical that we understand that the Chávez regime represents the most complex foreign policy challenge Colombia has faced in recent times.
The strategy of Chancellor Bermúdez, to not respond to provocation and to develop active diplomacy in the international community, is appropriate; but it will not be enough. Especially if our neighbors and supposed allies wash their hands of us. Or if they equate the fanatical screams of Chávez to the diplomatic silence of Uribe.
That’s how it is, with friends like these...
Edited by Robin Silberman