10 March 2009

Unasur Defense Ministers Play Down Regional Conflicts at South American Summit

March 10 (Southern Affairs) -- Unasur's defense ministers met again in Santiago today to kick off the South American Defense Council. Amid handshakes and congratulations, the ministers emphasized the historic nature of the meeting which they say will help ensure peace and democracy throughout the continent.

What the ministers did not discuss publicly was how they planned to reestablish functional relations between eight of the 12 nations of Unasur. While the thundering applause the ministers gave each other on "a job they can be proud of" left no doubt as to the goodwill between the women and men sitting around the table, the nagging question of how to resolve old and new conflicts took a back seat to the apparently more pressing need to "reaffirm basic principles," like sovereignty, peace, and democracy.

The lack of any comment on a possible resolution to the conflict and rupture of diplomatic relations between Colombia and Ecuador following Colombia's March 1, 2008 attack against a base camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, in Ecuadorian territory was a sign of the group's lack of real power.

According to Ecuador's Defense Minister Javier Ponce Cevallos, he did not meet with his Colombian counterpart today, and Ecuador is not yet willing to reestablish relations until Colombia meets a series of demands, primarily a public retraction of statements saying that Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa's government had ties with the FARC.

The only problem is that most of the evidence says Correa's government did. His former Under Secretary of Political Coordination Jose Ignacio Chauvin was indicted yesterday by an Ecuadorian Anti-Narcotics prosecutor as an accomplice to the Ostaiza Brothers cocaine cartel, a group that allegedly helped the FARC smuggle drugs through Mexico and into the United States.

Chauvin admitted to meeting with the FARC several times and said that his old boss and close Correa ally the former Security Minister Gustavo Larrea, had also met with FARC representatives. Add Correa's curious expulsion of two U.S. diplomats in the last two months for pressuring police officers to testify about links between his government and the FARC, his campaign to close the US anti-narcotic air base in Manta, and still unproven claims that the FARC donated to Correa's election campaign and more questions surface.

"I've never denied my friendship with Edison Ostaiza," Chavin was quoted today by Quito-based El Comercio as saying. "I will never deny my status as a revolutionary. I will never deny that I met with Raúl Reyes." Reyes was the FARC's number 2 leader killed in the Angostura attack.

With such a public confession coming from a former member of the administration confirming Colombia's claims, what leg is Correa standing on?

Such are the gaps in the positions of the two countries that it isn't difficult to see why a consensus-based organization like Unasur's defense council is forced to steer clear of polemic discussions in favor of reaffirming basic principles. The ministers wouldn't want to wade too deep into someone's sovereign territory.