Why did Hugo Chavez and Rafael Correa, presidents, for now, of Venezuela and Ecuador, do it? What made them change - seemingly overnight - from fiery, fearsome supporters of the terrorist, narco-trafficking Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces [FARC], to princes of peace, pleading with FARC's bloodthirsty gangs to stop their war against Colombia's government and people, and to free hundreds of kidnapped hostages?
Presidents, pundits and other assorted potentates have been abuzz in
Washington, Madrid, London and other concerned capitals, but their
colleagues in Caracas, Quito and Bogota knew the answer: They were
forced to by the citizens of Venezuela and Ecuador.
Observers, especially on the left, proffered opinions: Mr. Chavez
and Mr. Correa finally understood the FARC's evil ways; they were
preparing the ground to improve relations with the next American
president; the Colombian military had wreaked so much havoc with the
FARC that the increasingly ragtag guerrilla organization couldn't
To a greater or lesser degree, all the above played a part, but
there was and remains an overwhelming reason: Students, business
people, academics, military all were against their leaders' support for
the notorious leftist group that had, by the turn of the century,
nearly taken control of Colombia.
Mr. Chavez and Mr. Correa had no realistic choice in the matter.
While they continued to relish the threat to their despised nemesis,
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and to dream of financial and
political benefits in abetting the FARC; their popular support went
into a tailspin.
Hugo Chavez's economic policies have created massive food shortages
and an inflation rate topping 25 percent. Funneling aid estimated at
more than $12 billion to friendly regimes (Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador,
Nicaragua) and rebel groups in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru
was the cruelest blow to Venezuelans, at least 38 percent of whom live
below the poverty line. Then there were such gambits as nationalizing
successful businesses, blocking imports of badly needed foodstuffs from
Colombia and rampant corruption.
As if the squandering of Venezuela's enormous oil wealth were not
enough, informed citizens watched Mr. Chavez make his regime and the
country look foolish to the rest of the world, excepting such bastions
of peace and probity as China, Iran, North Korea and Russia, even as
the country has been a major conduit for exporting cocaine to Europe
and the United States..
Rafael Correa, in office a year and a half, had been a late comer to
outrageous, revolutionary, socialized governance and wanted Ecuador to
catch up. The frontier with Colombia, previously well-patrolled by
Ecuadorian and Colombian security personnel, quickly became - on
Ecuador's side - a replenishment and staging area for more than 160
FARC fighting units. The United States was told to pack up its
long-maintained air force base; joint efforts to clear land mines along
the frontier with Peru were dropped; and, a prerequisite of such
regimes, a new, revolutionary constitution, was mooted.
Worst of all for proud Ecuadorians, Mr. Correa adopted a sycophantic
style, echoing virtually everything voiced by the mercurial Mr. Chavez,
a practice he continued by giving the FARC identical advice as his
mentor after the Venezuelan's surprise about-face. Even though public
opinion clearly was against his previous course of aiding the FARC,
that Mr. Correa once again echoed Mr. Chavez was, at the least,
To create some distance from his unpopular guru, Mr. Correa made an
even more popular announcement that Ecuador would not join Mr. Chavez's
touted "Bolivarian Alternative for The Americas" grouping of
revolutionary socialist regimes known as ALBA.
It has been a terrible eight months for Mr. Chavez and his
disciples, including Presidents Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel
Ortega in Nicaragua. Mr. Morales, in office since January 2006, faces
the dissembling of his country as the relatively wealthy citizenry in
the eastern area around Santa Cruz rebel against his force-fed
socialism. Mr. Ortega, who assumed office some 18 months ago with a 38
percent plurality over a tragically split conservative opposition, has
been traveling the world using a jet aircraft loaned to him by Libya's
Moammar Gadhafi, with an enormous retinue comprising his eight
children, their wives, uncounted grandchildren and friends, making more
than 30 trips since taking office. Complementing his 25 percent
approval rating, Managua wags suggest Mr. Ortega is running the country
And then there is President Cristina Kirchner, of Argentina, whose
approval rating has fallen below 30 percent after only seven months in
office. She has adopted absurd economic policies (exacting a special
tax on exports, chief among them) and exchanged pledges of solidarity
with Venezuela's would-be President for Life.
In Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, the once
shining Marxist banner has become soiled beyond recognition, very
possibly sundered beyond salvation. In none of the five countries does
regime popularity reach 40 percent.
Hugo Chavez, self-appointed leader of the Bolivarian revolution, has
encouraged and actively supported the political, economic and social
decay of five sovereign states.
Meanwhile, back in Havana, the ideological birthplace of all this
mischief, the Castro brothers' regime celebrates the 80th birthday of
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Fidel and Raul's long-deceased comrade, whose
failure to spread revolutionary Marxism throughout Latin America ended
miserably in Bolivia. With paeans including a specially staged opera
and unveiling of a gigantic statue made of 75,000 keys, it is fitting
that Mr. Chavez and cohorts emulate Che's earlier humiliation
simultaneously with his gala memorial.