The Economist

Bazookas and bases

Álvaro Uribe tries to convince South America that the FARC is the real threat.--The Economist.

6 de agosto de 2009

WHEN Colombian officials revealed on July 26th that three Swedish anti-tank rocket launchers sold to Venezuela in 1988 had been found in a camp belonging to the FARC guerrillas, they expected their neighbours to share their outrage. Instead, the leaders of Brazil and Chile seemed to side with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez in expressing unease over a pending deal that would give the United States use of several Colombian air and naval bases. Frustrated by the reaction, Álvaro Uribe, Colombia’s president, cut short a midyear holiday at one of his ranches for a lightning tour of seven South American countries (including Brazil and Chile). His aim is to persuade them that the real security threat in South America comes from drug-financed insurgents and their allies, not the United States.

The Colombian army found the anti-tank bazookas last year but Sweden only recently confirmed that it had sold them to the Venezuelan army. Colombian officials point out that the find seems to corroborate e-mails on computer equipment belonging to Raúl Reyes, a senior FARC leader killed when the Colombian army bombed his camp just over the Ecuadorean border in March last year. In messages dated January 2007, Iván Márquez, a guerrilla commander, writes that he met three Venezuelan officials who promised him “bazookas” and later says that he received “85 millimetre anti-tank rockets”.

Mr Chávez dismissed the e-mails as fabricated. He has insisted that his government does not protect the guerrillas. But the New York Times this week reported that more recent intercepted FARC communications obtained by unnamed intelligence sources pointed to continuing help from Venezuelan officials in procuring weapons for the guerrillas.

As so often when thrown on the defensive, Mr Chávez went on the attack. He recalled his ambassador in Bogotá—for the third time in 20 months. He threatened to block all trade between the two countries. This totalled $7.3 billion last year, of which $6 billion was Colombian exports. Venezuela relies on its neighbour for much of its food, as well as, believe it or not, natural gas. This week he ordered a halt to some car imports and vowed to find alternative suppliers for other Colombian products.

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