As widely reported in the media, Columbian government troops this past week-end crossed their border a mile or two into Ecuador without that country's advance permission, chasing a band of Columbian rebel members of the leftest Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). The rebel leader, Raul Reyes, was killed. Although the Columbian government subsequently issued a formal apology to Ecuador's government, military forces of both Ecuador and Venezuela are being mobilized along their borders with Columbia and there is apparently serious talk of military conflicts, inflaming the entire region.
This matter is important to Americans because the U. S. has strong strategic interests in Latin America and is a major political and financial supporter of the Columbian government, in large part to help them control the huge drug trafficking and terrorist activities in Columbia of powerful groups like FARC. It's also important because the leftist, opportunistic, anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is using this relatively minor incident to rail against "U. S. imperialism" and unnecessarily heightening political tensions through most of South America.
Of course, it would have been much preferable for the Columbian government to have consulted in advance with Ecuador and gotten the government's blessing for the incursion. There may or may not have been adequate time to do that. However, the mobilization by Ecuador and, especially, Venezuela, and the talk of potential military conflicts are clearly unwarranted and stupid. Venezuela was not involved in the incursion and Chavez, not surprisingly, is simply trying to take advantage of another opportunity to gain political influence at the expense of the U. S., similar to Iran's Ahmadinejad in Iraq and other countries in the Middle East.
That said, this incident reinforces my feelings, I believe shared by many others, that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and understandable involvement with Israel in dealing with the problematic Palestinian situation, have led us to pay insufficient attention to our interests in Latin America. It is very unlikely there will be any meaningful foreign policy changes in the ten or so remaining months of the Bush Administration. However, our next President and Secretary of State should make a comprehensive fresh review of our relationships with our Latin American neighbors a foreign policy priority. With respect to Columbia, that review ought to include looking seriously at our strategy for dealing with drug traffickers and the seemingly unsustainable and unwarranted size of our financial support to the government and its armed forces.