Santos and Chavez are supposed to meet tomorrow at San Pedro Alejandrino, this most hallowed ground in Latin America, where Bolivar spent the last ten days of his life, near Santa Marta, hoping to recover somehow before he could board ship to Jamaica and Europe in his semi imposed self exile.
Why would this two enemies until a few hours ago anyway, meet there? What should they meet to begin with?
Let's start with the reasons for the meeting .
First, Chavez has been defeated on that FARC inside Venezuela accusation thing. True, he sorts of manages to appear as the one seeking reconciliation hoping with a grand gesture to renew with Colombia now that the evil Uribe is gone. It might appear so for the simple minded but in fact the speed at which Chavez is backtracking on his initial blustery break up with Colombia tells us that he knows he lost the gambit, that Uribe won that last dice throw and that Chavez needs quickly to find any pretext to gain time.
The fact of the matter is that Chavez finally is realizing that his support to FARC and ELN has become an albatross at his neck, that Uribe might not have been able to liquidate the FARC yet but that this one is nowhere near recovering the lost ground and that even semi successful social policies from Santos could be enough to finish off the FARC. Why? Because Uribe has brought enough peace inside Colombia that now the Santos administration can think in earnest about economic growth and social inclusion, something simply impossible to consider 8 years ago. And it is certainly not a weakened Chavez at home, with less money than he used to have, that can single handedly restore the FARC when even a zombified Fidel Castro said in an interview this week to Venezuelan journalists that war with Colombia is impossible and that [XXI] socialism is a mere alternate name for communism. In short, considering that even his allies in Latin America (Lula, Kirchner) are getting tired of Chavez support to the FARC, he probably decided that enough was enough, or at the very least that he needed to gain some serious time here until he can come up with a different strategy to take over Colombia before this one suddenly finds itself with the unexpected gift to pick up Venezuela remains once Chavez is done destroying the country.
And why would Santos oblige? Besides the long term objectives already discussed, there are some short term ones that justify Santos playing magnanimous. As the wise guessed, it was all along a good guy bad guy tandem with Uribe. This one was the bad guy until the end, created a precedent against Venezuela and Chavez that could be used by Santos at any time he were to need it. Blackmail by any other name. Santos right now needs two things: an internal policy success and Chavez at the very least will allow for the resumption of some trade at the border solving Santos an economic problem for the time being. Not that it would be a major problem but Santos does not need the distraction as he has bigger fish to fry, such an FTA with the US before the November vote, reconciliation with Ecuador, and getting ready for an eventual serious negotiation with the FARC.
Because this is what is looming in the future, and quite unexpectedly. The pressure on the FARC by Chavez is now going to become a reality. This one might still allow the FARC at home but he will demand that they stay quiet for a while and as such Santos will advance in any armed conflict against them inside Colombia now that support will not be as forthcoming from Venezuela. Also the FARC knows about the difficultly of Chavez at home, the more so that they realize that their presence in Tachira and Zulia risks very well to create an anti Chavez landslide in these two states! With new representatives screaming for tough measure against the FARC inside Zulia, their position could become quite uncomfortable. See, guerrilla thrive by the love of the peasant that see in them as the liberators. But now that Chavez has destroyed agriculture in Venezuela the FARC in these regions is not only seeing for the criminal gang it is, but also as the oppressor.
And thus we must admire even more this last success of Uribe who has managed a last blow against the FARC before leaving, a blow that sends even Piedad Cordoba into a tailspin of conciliatory gestures. I wonder if Uribe expected so much success from his last anti Chavez outing.
Of course, not all is won for Santos. Peace is still a distant objective and the inner demons of the FARC and Chavez are already busily conspiring. But the Santos victory has told Chavez that if he wants his candidate to win in four years he must clean up his image in Colombia and that right now requires him distancing clearly and unequivocally from the FARC.
And thus, fresh for his opening of the Bolivar tomb, Chavez heads to San Pedro Alejandrino which will also be the perfect excuse for him to drop his investigation on Bolivar's death which was making him the "hazmereir" of Latin America. A nice extra gift for Santos if you ask me.... I am sure that Santos will enjoy much more the quiet and peace of the Quinta, the shady corridors that protect from the harsh Caribbean sun than Chavez will do....
Chavez arrived half an hour after Santos. Normal. We were told that Chavez had about half a dozen of vehicles shipped to Santa Marta, including two brand new black armored Mercedes Benz. Not that normal.... Plus a whole bunch of security personnel and his own ambulance. At least we know that Chavez will not be mugged like any tourist in Santa Marta.
They all went to San Pedro Alejandrino and inspired by Bolivar surely they managed a preliminary agreement that states a page is turned, let bygones be bygones and let's reopen relations.
Everybody managed to keep a straight face of course, knowing full well that what we got at best was a lull in the battle. You know, that scorpion thing about to stab anyway the frog helping it to cross the stream.
Chavez got a few months of peace and quiet with Colombia not pursuing further the charges. But the charges are there and they hang on Chavez head as Damocles sword, a very sharp one.
Santos gets a tamed Chavez for a while which is good for him while he sets his agenda at home. He also gets Venezuela to recognize its commercial debt to Colombia and a renewed promise to pay up. Which it will do at least in part least that sword shines again. Best, Santos gets an aura of forgiving statesman right on time to go to DC and get his long awaited FTA.
The future? Conflict is inevitable once again since Chavez simply cannot give up his alliance with the FARC that he needs for his pan-latin "revolution". The best Colombia can hope is for a few weeks of low border activity. As for drug traffic, do not count on its reduction: too many within chavismo are benefiting from it and financing obscure "revolutionary" deals here and there (the more so that PDVSA money is getting scarcer and scarcer).
Collateral effect? Chavez is further discredited as an all bark, no bite character. And that is bad for him before local elections as the radicals are going to be disoriented with such a fallback at Santa Marta after cadenas of insults against Santos. And confusion will happen outside of Venezuela too, complicating his ability to maneuver in advancing his continental project, now that Ecuador is watering down and that Evo gets his first major challenge of his second term in supposedly friendly Potosi in a major strike.
Truly, when I wrote the title of this post I did not expect to be proven to be so right!
PS: I have spared you the pitiful spectacle of Chavez with his coat he never took of, the only one there to keep it at all times, with his rambling speeches, with his totally misplaced attack on CNN, etc, etc....
PS2: Important detail I forgot to mention: all Colombians were in white shirts, the anti FARC uniform... Just in case any one thought that Chavez had a chance to control the agenda..... :)