By Eduardo Dimas Read Spanish Version
Sayings always have a high degree of wisdom, acquired by people during their daily life. The saying that serves as my headline is very old, centuries old. The comparison with the string instruments is very graphic. It is not the same to play a small violin than the much larger viola.
The same occurs with politics. It is not the same to be in the opposition than in government. When the opposition comes to government, whatever the means, it is usually forced to assume positions that do not match its previous political line and to maintain diplomatic relations with other governments it doesn't approve of. "Let him who's without sin throw the first stone."
This truth may not be to everybody's liking but it's a reality that nobody even halfway well-informed can ignore. Not even the revolutionary processes are immune to that "capital sin" of governing, of representing an entire people, a nation, and to enter into international commitments they didn't have before.
Those of us who watched the face of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa as he shook the hand of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe felt (unanimously, I believe) that deep inside he wanted to smash Uribe's face. But he couldn't.
The sovereignty of Correa's country had been violated. He had been deceived and accused of having links to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. In his territory, Colombian troops had massacred a group of guerrillas and civilians. But it was an accord by the Rio Group summit and he had to shake hands with the aggressor.
It must have been a very difficult moment for Correa. But politics is politics and personal feelings must be secondary to the nation's interests. In this case, it was a question of peace, because the violation of Ecuadorean sovereignty and the aggressive attitude assumed by the Colombian government, with the support of the United States, could lead to war.
Eventually, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez stepped forward to arrange a diplomatic solution to the conflict, with the unanimous support of the governments present at the summit. Chávez expressed the need to prevent a conflict "between brothers" that would harm all the countries in the region, something that would benefit the interests opposed to Latin American integration.
Some days earlier, on Sunday, March 1, Chávez had ordered the mobilization of 10 army battalions -- about 6,000 soldiers -- toward a 2,200-kilometer border, and had placed the Air Force in a state of alert. In addition, he announced that any violation of the Venezuelan territory would be considered as a "cause for war."
However, Chávez realized that that road led only to war and to a trap set by those who wish neither unity nor independence for Latin America. A trap set by those who wish to impose the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and who want U.S. products and capital to move freely from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, as Colin Powell once confessed.
And traps are for boobies, not for serious statesmen who hold in their hands the destiny of their people. Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba says that the governments of Brazil, Argentina and Cuba warned Chávez and Correa about the consequences of an extended conflict, perhaps of war. Although those governments were not directly involved, I think they did their duty.
There was a trap, indeed. Even though the Ecuadorean Army had mobilized about 11,000 soldiers to the border with Colombia, the U.S. politicians and the U.S. media referred only to the mobilization of the Venezuelan Army.
W. Bush and the three presidential candidates made various references to "the dangerous step" taken by Chávez by mobilizing troops to the border, and they reiterated their support for President Uribe.
Later came the campaign to link Chávez and Correa with the FARC. It was said that Chávez had delivered $300 million to that guerrilla group. The Ecuadorean Foreign Minister was accused of appearing in a photograph with Comandante Raúl Reyes. The man with Reyes turned out to be Patricio Etchegaray, an Argentine political leader.
It was disinformation to the max. The media of the United States, Europe and of the Latin American oligarchies spoke constantly about the mobilization ordered by Chávez and his "proven" links to the FARC. Evidently, the objective of the campaign was to prepare international public opinion for an intervention against the Bolivarian Revolution.
That had to be avoided. And it was.
While most of the chiefs of state at the summit agreed to condemn the attack on the basis of international law, but not to condemn the attacking government, and while Correa, Chávez and the rest accepted the decision, they did not do so out of cowardice but out of common sense.
Later, at a meeting of foreign ministers summoned by the Organization of American States (OAS), something similar happened. The declaration of the Rio Group served as a guideline. The governments of the United States and Colombia could not justify the violation of Ecuador's sovereignty and the attack was once again condemned, on the basis of respect for the sovereignty of national territory.
The critics of this decision, mostly from the Left, point out that Colombia was not condemned and that the attack could be repeated. They are correct. Sooner or later, it will be repeated and Colombia, with the support of the United States, will violate the sovereignty of some other country -- assuming that the U.S. government doesn't do so itself.
However, when that time comes, Colombia will face unanimous condemnation -- already established as a precedent. In addition, no Latin American government, as servile as it may be, can agree to have its national sovereignty violated because it must then face its own people.
I don't intend to argue with the critics of the accord. I simply remind them that the objection from the Right, especially from the White House, is that the U.S. did not support the Colombian government in its "right" to defend itself from terrorists, no matter where they are.
It would have been like giving the Colombian Army carte blanche to violate the sovereignty of Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil or any other country that -- in Colombia's opinion -- harbored FARC fighters. It would have been like allowing Colombia to become Latin America's Israel, a fond hope of the White House.
If the situation had been carried to its final consequences, a war would have broken out in South America, with the participation of the United States, against Venezuela or Ecuador or both. It would have been the end of the process of integration in Latin America.
It is evident that, at least for the moment, the Latin American countries are more united than ever.
Who was the main loser?
Nevertheless, the contradictions between Latin American governments exist and will continue to exist. Diverging interests exist and will continue to exist. The allies of the United States will maintain their policy of indifference to Latin American integration and will even try to boycott it.
I think it's reproachable, even cowardly, that no one condemned the murder of Raúl Reyes and the group of people with him, several of whom were civilians of different nationalities. It was never mentioned that their presence in Ecuador was due to negotiations with several governments, including France's, to liberate 14 prisoners held by the guerrillas.
On the other hand, Uribe's government, the United States' main ally in the region, was totally discredited as a liar. It is unlikely that anyone in his right mind could now believe anything Uribe's government might say.
José Martí once said that a politician's main duty is to look ahead. In that sense, I remind you of the statement by a great Latin American statesman who, when asked about his opinion on the Gulf War, said: "Wars are not provoked; they are prevented by all means possible. But if fighting is unavoidable, it must be carried to its final consequences."
This is not a verbatim quote, because I never saw it written down. I shelved it in my memory, because of its extraordinary wisdom. I invite you to meditate.