Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Border battles: What next for Colombia and Venezuela?

In many ways there is a sense of inevitability to all of this. Although those who call the shots in both Colombia and Venezuela are pretty much from the same stock, the ideologies they (claim) to follow are far from similar.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's actions have increased tension with neighbours Colombia.
Nicolás Maduro: quashing Colombians. (Photo from Facebook.)
Considering socialist Venezuela's anti-US stance, having a neighbour that is, politically speaking anyway, rather cosy with Washington has always been a sore point.

Throw in a president who has been feeling the heat both inside and outside his country since taking office in 2013 from a more charismatic and popular deceased predecessor, then attempting to unite the people against 'foreign insurgents' isn't without historical precedence. Problems at home? Create a distracting rallying point.

In fact, in this particular case, it's a line Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro (as Hugo Chávez before) has been spinning for some time: Colombian paramilitaries are active in his country, plotting to overthrow his rule. Colombia is also the source of narco-trafficking and other illegal activities that run into Venezuela. And all these actions are getting clandestine support from none other than former Colombian president and current state senator Álvaro Uribe.

This siege mentality, whether perceived or real, appears to have reached a head for the Maduro administration with its decision to expel over a thousand Colombian citizens from the country and close the border.

Understandably, the sight of their countrymen fleeing across that border, taking whatever of their belongings they can before their dwellings are to be, allegedly, demolished has angered Colombians at home.

So far, the reaction from Bogotá has been strong words only; President Juan Manuel Santos is hoping on finding a diplomatic solution to this mini-crisis. Such a position isn't surprising from a man currently trying to close a peace deal with guerrillas to end over 50 years of internal conflict in his country. The dove isn't about to turn into a hawk just yet.

If the more belligerent Uribe or any of his Centro Democrático party colleagues were calling the shots things could be far more delicate than they are at present. Indeed Uribe has already called the Venezuelan government's action as 'an attempt at genocide'. This came 24 hours after Maduro accused him of being a paramilitary leader and an assassin.

However, the idea of this escalating into anything more serious is unlikely at this remove. Alongside the Santos diplomacy, in many ways the Venezuelan leadership is on a tightrope. Engaging in what many at home would see as an unnecessary military confrontation with the neighbours could be the beginning of the end for Maduro and co.

We're not quite at the brink, but both parties would do well to recall their shared heritage. The many people in the two states who venerate the great liberator from old Spanish rule, Simón Bolívar, should remember that if he had had his way there would be no border. Yet right now that line in the map seems as pronounced as ever.
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