Venezuela and Colombia have much history in common, in their development as independent nations, preceding recent period of tense relations.
Until 1830 they formed one single nation, “la Gran Colombia”, a project of continental unity encouraged by Simon Bolivar. But after the death of the “Liberator” Bolivar, in both Venezuelan and Colombian territories, the ruling classes developed separatist movements which ended in the dissolution of “la Gran Colombia” and the formation of the two states which currently exist.
The 20th century has seen various incidents between the neighbouring countries, which have come close to producing a warlike situation. These included the “Caldas” conflict of 1987, when a Colombian ship was sunk in Venezuelan waters, aggravating the border dispute between the countries over the Gulf of Venezuela.
The vast majority of political disputes between Venezuela and Colombia over the last 100 years have been territorially motivated, and largely been “won” by Colombia. But it has been since the coming to power of Chavez and the declaration of the Bolivarian revolution in 1998, that has seen the period of greatest tension.
Since the beginning of the Bolivarian revolution 11 years ago, there have been various incidents, in which the story has been more or less the same: the Colombian government accuses Venezuela of supporting guerrillas they classify as terrorists, and the Venezuelan government responds, labelling the Colombian administration ultra right-wing lackeys of imperialism.
In recent years, the Venezuelan government has also declared to the international community that it recognises Colombian guerrillas of the FARC and ELN as belligerent forces and does not regard them as terrorists. They argue that the Colombian guerrillas are armed freedom fighters fighting against a ruling class which attacks the interests of the people. This was one of the most controversial declarations of Chavez, and was one of the main reasons why the Colombian ruling class, headed by outgoing president Uribe, with the support of the US, scaled up its diplomatic attacks against the Bolivarian revolution.
One could draw the conclusion that the current conflict between Colombia and Venezuela is a dispute between the regional and international left and right. Superficially we can say that this is true, but with a deeper analysis of the current conjuncture, deeper conclusions can be drawn.
Colombia: new president, same agenda
Colombia, at the present time is undergoing a “democratic” transition, with the government headed by President Uribe leaving office after 8 years in power. This comes after his failed attempts to seek the possibility of standing for re-election through a constitutional referendum allowing for indefinite re-election, thus hypocritically copying the actions of the Venezuelan government which he had denounced!
Santos, the new President elect, is of the same political brass as Uribe, and sat at his right hand, as Minister of Defence, in the previous government, in which he was seen as among those with the toughest position against Venezuela.
Uribe leaves behind him the political scandals, the social crisis of Para militarism and a destabilised region; the product of his agreement with the US allowing the installation of 7 military bases in the country. This is seen by Venezuelans as a threat to the Bolivarian revolution as well as a threat to the stability of the continent.
Bolivarian revolution in crisis
In Venezuela, the situation is not very much different, as far as social political and economic conflict is concerned. 11 years since the Bolivarian revolution, the government has still not developed an alternative economy and broken with the capitalist system. The country’s economy continues to be weak and dependent on oil. Venezuela’s 5 years of economic growth were based on high oil prices and to a large extent by the speculative raw materials market, which had a significant hand in the development of the current capitalist crisis. A recession has followed, which has brought back onto the agenda many of the problems which were thought to have been solved in Venezuela, through the social programmes, financed by oil revenues.
International economic reports have shown that in the region, only the economies of Venezuela and Haiti, recently crippled by a terrible earthquake, remain in decline. This has disturbed the waters of the Bolivarian process, and opened up the way for an offensive by the right wing, in the run up to the parliamentary elections on 26 September, in which they could realistically make parliamentary gains.
At the same time, even the policies of the government, with the creation of structures like the communal councils, and the strengthening of state intervention in the economy and other social policies which were abandoned during the period of neo-liberalism, before the coming of the revolution, have also proven insufficient, and state structures continue to become evermore weighed down with bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption. This was seen in the recent case of PDVAL, a government food company created by the PDVSA oil company, where it has been discovered that due to corruption and incompetence, tonnes of food reserves were lost, which has led to an increasingly negative view of the Chavez government as intransparent.
This is the background to the current conflict, which we still consider the result of a policy of threats and intimidation against the Bolivarian revolution. However, beyond the diplomatic rhetoric, the most concrete factor in the situation has been the construction of bases for US imperialism in Colombia, which did not provoke as strong a response from the Venezuelan government as has the current impasse. Relations have now deteriorated up to the point where commercial trade between the two countries has fallen by 60%.
A decisive feature of this new conflict has been the attempts by the ruling political elite in both countries, in creating a conflict which does not serve the interests of the people in either country, to distract attention from the situation developing in both Venezuela and Colombia.
Nothing can be ruled out in terms of the future actions of imperialism, but at the present time, with the US submerged in a deep economic and political crisis, and militarily bogged down in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and with its fallout with the Iranian regime, a direct US military intervention in Venezuela seems highly unlikely. Moreover, such an intervention would provoke a tidal wave of international solidarity, re-enforce anti-imperialist sentiments, and reignite the volcano of Andean revolution, which threatened to explode in the 2002-2006 period, which saw the election of various “left” governments in the region. This would raise the spectre of the threat of the initiation of a genuine socialist revolution, continental and international liberation and the struggle for a socialist federation of Latin America.
We do not discount the threat of imperialism. But from our perspective, at the present time, the greatest threat to the Bolivarian process is internal. The reformist and “social democratic” tendencies, which have implanted themselves in the revolution openly conspire to prevent its development towards the socialist revolution. Their rhetoric, confined to “national liberation”, puts socialism off as a task for the distant future, rather than the present. These type of contradictions have now led to a situation in which a rabid, counterrevolutionary right wing, after years of its defeat to the point of near-extinction, is now more alive than ever, and is presented with the real possibility of taking back power in Venezuela.
– No to the threat of war!
– US military bases out of Colombia!
– No to imperialist intervention
– The real war is not between peoples, but against the capitalist system!
– Workers, peasants, indigenous, students, popular communities of Colombia and Venezuela, unite and fight for revolutionary democratic Socialism!