Evo Morales has interjected himself into the recent Colombia-Venezuela political crisis. Speaking to the Bolivian press, Evo underlined that Bolivia is a pacifist country but is prepared to defend itself if drawn into the Colombia-Venezuela conflict. This was an odd statement to make for a strictly pacifist country (as Bolivia’s constitution proclaims), but also because Bolivia borders neither country & is nearly a thousand miles away from the conflict.
For some time, Colombia (under Uribe) has claimed that Venezuela (under Chávez) is harboring—perhaps even colluding w/—FARC guerrillas. Last week, Colombia laid out some pretty damning evidence to the OAS. Chávez has continuously denied the claims, though he has frequently mobilized military forces to the Colombian border (Colombia hasn’t responded) & proclaimed itself ready to go to war, if provoked.
Meanwhile, Ecuador (which also shares a border w/ Colombia) has been cooperating w/ Colombia’s armed forces, working to eliminate FARC guerrillas in their border region. This despite a flareup in 2008 after Colombia forces crossed—unannounced—into Ecuadorian territory to carry out a raid. During that crisis, Venezuela—but not Ecuador—mobilized troops to its border (Chávez gave the order on his Aló Presidente television show).The crisis was averted, and Ecuador & Colombia have developed a close working relationship rooting out FARC bases.
So this crisis is somewhat baffling. For all the fanfare about Venezuela’s recent military purchases, they pale in comparison to Colombia’s, both in quantity ($10 billion to $3 billion) & quality (Colombia has stocked up for years on sophisticated equipment useful for jungle counterinsurgency warfare; Venezuela has been shopping for Soviet-era assault rifles & battle tanks). Any conflict between the two countries would likely be brief (as have all wars in South America since the devastating 1932-1935 Chaco war between Bolivia & Paraguay), but it would also like end badly for Venezuela.
This makes Evo’s comments all the more puzzling. In his comments, he made clear that he found Colombia the aggressor & took a firm stance beside Chávez (an odd move for a “pacifist” country). But this suggests he expects Colombia to attack Bolivia. But why? The southernmost point of Colombia’s frontier lies nearly a thousand miles from Bolivia. And to cross into Bolivia would require Colombian forces to go through Brazilian territory. Brazil is the region’s military-political-economic juggernaut. Surely Colombia wouldn’t risk the ire of Brazil (the only Latin American country to crack the top 10 in global military expenditures) to attack Bolivia. Or does Evo expect a Colombia-Venezuela war to quickly become a regional conflict? That’s the most unlikely of all possible outcomes to this conflict.