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Thorny issue of national sovereignty affects both Venezuela and Colombia

VHeadline commentarist Carlos Herrera writes: Now that the diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Venezuela has to all intents and purposes been resolved, trade relations between the two nations will gradually get back to normal.

Nevertheless, one should not forget that the governments of Colombia and Venezuela are carrying out diametrically opposed economic policies in their own countries.

As two fraternal nations, Colombia and Venezuela are bound by strong historical ties and a flourishing bi-national trade amounting to US$2.5 billion in 2004 … which neither country can afford to renounce.

The public embrace and unity habitually shown by Chavez and Uribe is … in this writer’s opinion … more to do with diplomatic, political and economic expediency, than anything ideological.

Chavez always speaks about the “Colombian people” being brothers in arms with the Venezuelan people.

Historically, this is true, but since 1998 when Chavez was first elected, Venezuela has taken a different route from either of his contemporaries, namely Pastrana and Uribe.

Colombia is having neoliberal economic policies applied to its internal structures – creeping privatization of the health service, education, water, transport with even the national oil company Ecopetrol under threat of being sold off along with Colombia’s oil reserves to the highest transnational bidder.

Recently, the Colombian national airline, AVIANCA, has been offered for sale to Brazil’s Grupo Synergy, as it is now in Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. Avianca’s largest unsecured creditor, is owed US$73.9 million … shades of Venezuela’s VIASA and Aerolineas Argentinas. Bankrupt the airline and then sell it off at a knock down price.

Pure neoliberal tactics in play here.

Colombia is importing food as a matter of policy, whereas Venezuela is addressing the problem of idle lands and aiming to feed itself in the coming years.

These are the manifestations of Uribe’s commitment to the US economic model, which is designed to benefit large capital interests in the region, rather than the welfare of its own people. It is only a matter of time until the present Colombian government signs an all embracing bilateral free trade agreement agreement with the US, in the absence of the implementation of the |Free Trade of the Americas Alliance (FTAA) which was slated to come on line on January 1, 2005.

The thorny issue of national sovereignty affects both nations … depending on one’s interpretation.

For example, having US military advisers, US Special Forces and troops on Colombian soil in the context of Plan Colombia is hardly a manifestation of national sovereignty; and following the edicts of the IMF, WTO and World Bank in economic matters leading to the privatization of state industries “a la Argentina” in the 1990s, is hardly an expression of “economic independence”… and is blind adherence to the globalization of international capital flows.

On the other hand, Venezuela is implementing internal economic policies which keep it well away from the IMF … for example, since all outstanding loans were paid off on December 6, 2001.

Endogenous development is the key to maintaining Venezuela’s economic sovereignty and reduce its dependence on imported food over the longer term.

Some cynics maintain that Cuban doctors and sports trainers working in Venezuela is tantamount to compromising its sovereignty … but there is a great difference between inviting doctors to carry out humanitarian work with an historically excluded underclass, than having a foreign military presence on one’s soil.

History has proven that capitalist … and more recently neoliberal … free market economics have not worked in any South American nation if the aim was to generate prosperity to the impoverished masses. They are still poor and growing. The beneficiaries of these policies have been transnational capital and the US loving bourgeosie whose tastes have been trans-culturalized especially since World War II, as the US stamped its authority in its own backyard and proceeded to impose its values there using its globally controlled mass media in league with local media moguls.

This is why the launching of TVSur is a vitally important first step in combating this ongoing process of trans-culturization in the long term.

There exists hardly any criticism in the Colombian mass media about the Uribe government and its policies. Legend has it that Uribe is the most popular President in Latin America with a 70%+ approval rating. Ergo, he must be doing something right. The fact is that in last year’s Colombian referendum concerning major changes to be made in Colombia in social and economic terms, Uribe’s initiative required 20% approval of the registered voters to go ahead. The proposals received 18% and had to be dropped. There seems to be a massive divergence between the press’s perception of Uribe’s popularity and the concrete results of the government organized referendum.

Bearing in mind that Colombia has a population of around 44 million, there are only 24 million registered to vote and represent mainly all stratae of the middle classes. Thus, not even they were in agreement with the neoliberal economic content of the Colombian referendum, which included questions such as whether public employees should have their wages reduced!

In the 2002 elections, Uribe reached the presidency of Colombia on a “get tough with the guerrilla platform” with 5.8 million votes, or 53.04% of votes cast, with an abstention of some 53.33% … but then lost control of mayoralties in the major cities of Bogota, Cali and Medellin in 2004 … at the same time as his referendum content was not approved.

In Venezuela, Chavez won the recall referendum on his mandate with 5.9 million votes (59.2%) and now has a higher approval rating. Since 1998, Chavez has swept all before him in any democratic consultation - nine times now and counting – the difference with Uribe being that he (Chavez) has actually tried to do something for the impoverished majority and has thus encouraged them to vote by issuing I.D. documents (Mission Identity) and registering people on the electoral rolls.

This simply has not happened in Colombia, since Uribe and his government know that if there is relative peace in the cities where his voters live … and if security is pumped up against the threat of the guerrilla, he will probably be reelected in 2006.

God forbid that the adults in the 35 million population of poor and excluded should be able or willing to vote in Colombia. Perhaps even a left-wing candidate could emerge as was the case with the Patriotic Union in 1986. In this case, however … and in line with Colombia’s extremely violent political history … the paramilitary death squads would be sure to “influence” the outcome of the elections by liquidating the key candidates.

Venezuela and Colombia are thus two fraternal countries born from the same historical womb, but now on diverging political, democratic, social and economic paths.

Cain and Abel.

Chavez’ government is no longer an enemy of the masses … whereas the opposite is true in Colombia, where the 23 oligarch families that have always controlled this nation since the dissolution of La Gran Colombia in 1830, still hold sway over all major aspects of life via the obliging puppets in the Narino Palace … and are still bedmates with current and past US administrations.

The product of the injustice, impunity and political violence still rife in Colombia has been the emergence of the guerrilla movements more than fifty years ago … which have also lost their credibility by adopting the same murderous methods as their oligarch opponents and finance themselves by taxing the drug trade, extortion, kidnapping and vehicle theft.

In an ironic way, if there was peace in Colombia and if the guerrilla were integrated into mainstream politics … as happened in 1985 … what guarantees would there be that the endemic political violence on this country would not ensure that the oligarchs maintained power at all costs, after seeing the example of the Bolivarian Revolution taking place in Venezuela?

In Colombia, there are no guarantees and a negotiated peace is still a long way off.

Carlos Herrera More commentaries by Carlos Herrera

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