Helluva warning about the stalemate in Venezuela

Venezuela is in a stalemate.  Ruled as a colony by its Cuban masters with a little puppet leader in the persona of Nicolás Maduro, it's as bad an economic shambles as Cuba is, and as with Cuba, millions of its people are fleeing.  The United Nations declared it a death-squad regime, with 7,000 documented killings of dissidents.  There's a legitimate leader in the legislative declaration of Juan Guaidó as president, but the man is powerless without an army to command and sadly fading to irrelevance.

But there's not nothing going on.

Francisco Toro at the Washington Post has a powerful warning that the Venezuelan vacuum is activating some extremely evil forces that could take down our ally Colombia at a time when most of the attention is focused on the Guaidó melodrama.

As Venezuela's economic and political situation continues to plumb new depths, analysts fret that the crisis is bound to spill over its borders sooner or later. The most obvious candidate for destabilization is Colombia, which lies just across a long, porous, heavily populated border region that stretches over the Andes and down through the Amazon jungle.

It's no picnic having a failed state on your border. As Rwanda found out in the '90s when the perpetrators of its genocide set up camp across the border in the vast, ungoverned jungles of Congo, security threats quickly become unmanageable if your foe has a safe harbor just across a lightly patrolled border. And while the scale of violence in the northern tip of South America is much less, the basic dynamic looks distressingly similar.

Take a moment to consider Colombia's Ejército de Liberación Nacional, known as the ELN. Insofar as American commentators think about the ELN (which, in fairness, isn't very far at all), they tended to view it as the unruly little cousin of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. The ELN was considered a murderous gang technically adhering to old-school Marxist ideology but, in practice, much more devoted to running drugs than to overthrowing the bourgeoisie. 

That perception is out of date. Over the past few years, the ELN guerrilla has grown massively in wealth and power. And it has done so largely by turning Venezuela's collapse to its advantage.

Toro notes the news that's been out there about ELN taking over the bottom half of Venezuela's map, setting up bases, and literally governing with power as a result.  That's its sparsely populated jungly south, and easy to do when there are few people and those people are poor, and even more desirable because it's loaded with gold mines and other resources.  Toro notes that the Venezuelan military is actually helping them with advanced weaponry, presumably to target Colombia.  The impoverishment of the Venezuelans, he notes, has left ELN with rich recruiting ground for new guerrillas.  (Chalk it up to another achievement of socialism.)  He continues:

Venezuela's economic tailspin has left thousands of young Venezuelans hungry and desperate for any chance to make a living, creating rich recruiting grounds for the guerrillas. That same hunger has pushed thousands of Venezuelans out of the cities and toward the frontier mining regions the ELN controls, bringing a much-needed pool of labor to exploit.

The result is a seriously strengthened ELN that, today, has more fighters, more income, more weapons and more territory under its control than ever before. Some analysts are now describing it as a "Colombo-Venezuelan rebel army."

That, of course, is an authentic threat to Colombia, one we all ought to be worried about.  Toro writes:

What's clear is that, far from receding, the ELN threat is growing. A group that seemed on its last legs just a few years ago has engineered an unlikely turnaround on the back of Venezuela's implosion and FARC's retreat. And Colombia's peace and stability — the singular achievement of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America over the last generation — is profoundly threatened.

Policymakers in Washington are just starting to realize what their counterparts in Bogotá have known for some time now: Venezuela's crisis will be regionalized, and Colombia is going to be hit first, and hardest.

Our most important ally, Colombia, the one we spent billions and billions to help turn itself around — and, unlike Iraq, actually succeeded in achieving?  That nice place one can now retire to, in now-safe drink-water-out-of-the-faucet cities such as Medellín?  That place where you can walk around at 3 A.M. and not see a whiff of crime?  (Something I've done in Bogotá.)  That place that rings with joy and laughter in the streets because the communist guerrilla nightmare is over?  If I hadn't heard this myself in Bogotá, I wouldn't write it.

It's a helluva dark cloud over Colombia.  It might even explain why the country's leaders have been reluctant to hose Venezuela themselves out - they're afraid and they feel threatened already and they want to reserve their resources to save their own country.

Which ought to catch the attention of America's policymakers, actually. President Trump has been very reluctant to engage in American adventurism abroad, particularly with a side helping of nation-building, which rotted-out socialist Venezuela might actually need.

But there's a creeping feeling that the longer this crisis goes on, the worse it might get. And the harder it may be to hose out. Maybe a Marine invasion should have taken place earlier. Maybe it needs to be done now. And cripes, where is also-threatend Brazil?

What we are looking at may be two destabilized nations, one of them a close American ally, both knocked out and then run by communist guerrillas. Don't think it couldn't happen to an advanced country such as Colombia, either - in 1998, FARC encircled Bogota in open military combat against the Colombian army, firing advanced weapons into Bogota and they almost won. Toro doesn't mention it, but Colombia has a recent history of one group of bad guys replacing another. When Pablo Escobar and his M-19 Marxist guerrilla buddies were knocked out in 1990, the Cali Cartel took over. When the Cali Cartel as knocked out, FARC took over. When FARC got its vaunted yet locally rejected "peace" deal, they were knocked out (but got free stuff). Now it's ELN's turn. ELN, by the way, was founded in 1964 with the sponsorship of Castroite Cuba. They were an anifa-like group of posturing urban guerrilas in unholy combination of liberation theology and Castroite communism with drug dealing added later, sounding very woke in today's terms, and oh, they had the local university community behind them. They probably still do. Now they've become powerful and a dangerous enemy to Colombia because they've beefed themselves up on the foul-smelling fruits of Venezuela's collapse.

Ugly, ugly stuff.

Toro's analysis is a very solid warning. Read the whole thing here.

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