- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

What a war

A popular antiwar slogan from the 1960s was: What if they gave a war, and nobody came. Recently President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela tried to start one, but nobody fired a shot.

That is the way last week’s crisis in South America looked to a former Latin American ambassador, who is now an analyst at Washington’s Hudson Institute.

“President Chavez tried hard to start a war or, at least, look as if he wanted to start a war,” Jaime Daremblum wrote in a review of the events that brought Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela to the brink of war.

Mr. Daremblum, Costa Rica’s ambassador here from 1998 to 2004, argued that the anti-American Venezuelan president whipped up war fever after Colombia, a U.S. ally, raided a Colombian rebel camp about a mile inside Ecuador on March 1.

Ecuador, run by leftist President Rafael Correa, initially had no public comment on the aerial bombing of the camp that killed 25 rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by its Spanish initials as FARC). Those dead included top FARC leader Raul Reyes, whose laptop computer was captured by Colombian commandos who stormed the camp after the bombing. Colombia said the computer contained evidence of Mr. Chavez’s financial support of the rebels.

After Mr. Chavez declared the Colombian raid an act of war, Mr. Correa echoed those statements and accused Colombia of violating its territory.

Mr. Chavez’s “posturing was strategic,” designed to distract domestic attention in Venezuela from his failing economic policies that, despite record-high income from oil, have saddled Venezuelans with an inflation rate of 22.5 percent, the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Daremblum said.

“Mr. Chavez was goading the Ecuadorian government, provoking it to overreact to what is finally a fairly mild incident because he hopes that no one will notice that his ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ is crumbling and his popular support rapidly eroding,” he added.

Six days after the raid, Mr. Chavez and Mr. Correa agreed to pull their troops back from their borders with Colombia, after Colombian President Alvaro Uribe apologized for the military action.

Back from Belarus

U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart is on her way back to Washington for consultations after a week of diplomatic tension with the government of Belarus, which demanded she leave the country.

Miss Stewart left the capital, Minsk, on Wednesday and was due to stop in Vilnius, Lithuania and Brussels before arriving here.

“Ambassador Stewart’s absence is temporary, and she remains the U.S. ambassador to Belarus,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement released after her departure.

“United States policy toward Belarus remains unchanged. The U.S. Embassy expresses its support for the democratic aspirations of the Belarussian people. Following the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the United States stands ready to explore steps to improve our bilateral relations.”

The Bush administration has called President Alexander Lukashenko “Europe’s last dictator” for his authoritarian grip on the former Soviet republic.

“We expect that after the consultations have been completed that she would return to Belarus,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Miss Stewart left Minsk after Belarus last week recalled its ambassador, Mikhail Khvostov, from Washington to express its displeasure with U.S. sanctions applied last year against Belarus’ state-run oil and chemical company, Belneftekhim. Washington also froze the company’s assets and banned U.S. companies from doing business with the firm.

Miss Stewart is regarded as one of the strongest critics of the government’s human rights record among the foreign diplomatic corps in Minsk.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@

washingtontimes.com.

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