On March 1, 2008 the Columbian army launched a raid into Ecuador in order to strike a FARC base. In this raid Raúl Reyes, apparently FARC’s second in command, was killed.
FARC, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States, arose in the 1960s as part of the communist movement in Columbia. In the 1980s FARC branched out into the illegal drug trade and this lead to the communist party in Columbia distancing themselves from their former armed branch. Because of their involvement in the lucrative drug trade, FARC is considered by some to be the richest terrorist organization in the world. Ironically, since the United States is one of the world’s largest drugs markets, it is almost certain that much of FARC’s money came from America.
Ecuador was, of course, upset by this intrusion. Apparently Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, was even more upset. As of this writing, he has a significant armored force on the border of Columbia and is threatening to take action.
Venezuela has been able to build up its armed forces thanks to its significant oil revenue. Thus, the country poses a significant military threat to Columbia. Whether Chavez will order his forces to attack remains to be seen. However, South America is clearly much closer to war.
What also remains to be seen is how the United States will react to the situation. Perhaps the United States will use the situation to take action against Chavez. This, of course, is the American tradition in South and Central America-we have a long history of interfering there and imposing our will. An excellent example of this is how the United States created the state of Panama in order to get the land needed for the Panama Cannel.
This leads, naturally enough, to the question of what the United States should do. One possible strategy is to use diplomatic channels to try to resolve the situation peacefully. Since bloodshed is something that is generally best to avoid, this would seem to be the most moral option. After all, as Hobbes and Locke argued, peace is preferable to the state of war.
That said, always choosing peace and doing whatever it takes to avoid war is not always the best approach. Often, to paraphrase Machiavelli, war cannot be avoided and can only be postponed to greater disadvantage.
It has been claimed that Chavez is a tyrant who is leading his country rapidly away from democracy and into ruin. The basis for the claim of his tyranny is that he relies on intimidation to repress opposition and has taken severe actions against his political opponents. In terms of his bringing the country to ruin, people point to his support for terrorism, his problematic economic policies and the harm he has done to the social structure of his country. Others go far as to claim that he has severe psychological problems including megalomania. This claim does seem to be supported by his behavior and his speeches. In fact, having seen extensive footage of his speeches, he strikes me as someone who has, at best, a tenuous grip on his sanity.
Some regard Chavez as a communist. In general, actual communism (as contrasted against the communism Marx wrote about-something that has never actual been) has been a blight on the earth. Communism seems to be, for all practical purposes, synonymous with a lack of freedom, the elimination of basic rights, economic ruin, the absence of political choice, and dictatorship. While many of my fellow academics used to praise communism and communists states, an examination of the reality in communist countries past and present shows us the truth about such places. From a practical standpoint, Chavez seems to be nicely within the “communist” model. As such, Venezuela and the world would most likely be better off without him being in power.
Of course, there is the obvious concern about what would happen if Chavez was brought down. The most hopeful scenario is that Venezuela would be back onto a better path-one that allowed freedom and more sensible political and economic policies to flourish. But, hope has a way of being disappointed (just think of how things were supposed to turn out in Iraq). So, the United State leadership needs to be rather careful in terms of deciding what to do. There is also the concern that if we take action, this will merely make the situation worse. After all, we have a long history of meddling in South America and getting back to wielding the big stick down there could lead to even worse problems. Since America is founded on the principle of self-government, it would be rather hypocritical of us to (once again) try to impose our will on another people.
However, to merely sit on the sidelines would be morally unacceptable. As such, it looks like we can expect a time of trouble in the days ahead.