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Friday, October 23, 2009

Ecuador, Colombia and An Olive Branch

21 October 2009
Portrait of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, courtesy of Presidencia de la República del Ecuador/flickr

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa
(cc) Presidencia de la República del Ecuador/flickr

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has extended the olive branch to Colombia, signaling that he has secured enough power to take a geopolitical risk on Colombia, an enemy contrived only to ensure victory at home, Samuel Logan comments for ISN Security Watch.

By Samuel Logan for ISN Security Watch

Ecuadorian Security Minister Miguel Carvajal has announced the suspension of a Colombian-Ecuadorian Security Commission meeting set for 16 October to normalize relations between the neighboring South American countries.

Colombia had requested the suspension shortly after an Ecuadorian judge formalized the extradition of Colombian General Freddy Padilla for his connection to the ongoing court case that began when Colombia attacked Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) camps in Ecuador in early March 2008.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa remains committed to the thawing of relations, but he will not go against the judge, yet another sign that domestic pressures have motivated Ecuador’s decision to break relations with its northern neighbor, putting more urgent issues such the necessities of securing a common border or jointly combating the resilient FARC on the back burner.

Hours after the March 2008 bombing that killed FARC commander Raul Reyes, Ecuador exploded with the public outcry of an invasion. A larger, more powerful neighbor had made a unilateral and Machiavellian decision to attack a FARC camp on Ecuadorian territory; it had clearly disregarded the small country’s sovereignty, but the ends result was that the attack shook the FARC to its core, and as an organization it hasn’t recovered and likely never will.

At the time, however, Correa chose not to appreciate the silver lining. He was more concerned with his own internal battle to stay in power and rally a domestic support base for his political movement. Both presidents Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez have used the same strategy, focusing on the US to fire up support in their political bases.

Yet little in the region, and nothing in Correa’s political career, could compare with the Colombian invasion: an excellent opportunity to charge his country to the brink of war abroad so he could ensure victory at home.

Correa became president after a run-off election in November 2006, which he won after taking second place. At the time, he was the country’s seventh president in 10 years. The country’s political climate was tense, and Correa had to act fast to secure his mandate. He had initially garnered support by shutting down the unpopular Congress, renegotiating the country’s national debt, and calling for a Constituent Assembly, which was sworn a little over a month after Colombia bombed Reyes’ camps. Politically speaking, the timing was perfect.

Correa was re-elected as president in April 2009; it was the first time Ecuador had re-elected a president in 30 years.

Finally, in September, about a month after he was sworn in on Ecuador’s bicentennial, Correa extended the peace branch to his neighbor. His domestic agenda was on track, and he was well positioned at home to take more risks internationally, and Colombia was the first bullet point on his agenda.

On 8 October, Correa stated that if Colombia would reveal the location of FARC rebel camps in Ecuador, “we will capture them,” adding, “we can work together as we always have.”

Colombia has delivered information on FARC camps, and as the region waits to see where the political negotiations will head after this latest hiccup, sure proof of Ecuador’s change of heart will be the capture and delivery to Colombia of any number of FARC rebels operating on Ecuadorian territory.

Samuel Logan is an investigative journalist and author of This is for the Mara Salvatrucha: Inside the MS-13, America's Most Violent Gang, (relased by Hyperion in summer 2009). He is the founder of Southern Pulse | Networked Intelligence, and has reported on security, energy, politics, economics, organized crime, terrorism and black markets in Latin America since 1999. He is a senior writer for ISN Security Watch.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).

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