The killing of Raul Reyes, a leading spokesperson for the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC), and 19 other FARC insurgents by Colombian armed forces in Ecuador March 1 came as hopes for peace in Colombia were rising. The FARC had recently released six hostages.

Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Santos crowed that troops in “hot pursuit” had caught the guerrillas. But Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, citing witnesses, three survivors, and Ecuadorian military reports, claimed the guerrillas died while they slept, bombed from the air and that some 60 helicopter-borne Colombian troops arrived, shot the survivors, and removed Reyes’ body. He said the aircraft’s attack from the south signified a six-mile intrusion into Ecuadorian air space.

Speculation abounds that U.S. intelligence services and global positioning devises were crucial to an operation which lasted from midnight until 6 a.m.

Ecuador and Venezuela respond
Correa withdrew Ecuador’s ambassador from Bogota, expelled the Colombian ambassador from Quito, and moved troops to the border. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who along with Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba had been instrumental in the release of hostages, ordered ten tank battalions deployed along his country’s 1,360 mile border with Colombia, closed down Venezuela’s embassy in Bogota, and expelled Colombia’s ambassador from Venezuela.

Chavez charged Colombia with violating international law. Border crossings by Colombian paramilitaries into Venezualan territory have been documented previously.

FARC insurgents have long used Ecuador’s northern forests for cover. Border disputes have riled Ecuador-Colombia relations before. Colombian sources claim documents seized at the FARC encampment suggest contacts between President Correa and the FARC as well as links between the FARC and the Venezuelan government. But both the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan governments deny supporting the FARC.

Colombia’s permanent war
The events of the last few days suggest that the Colombian government subsists on war. Baby steps toward peace seem inevitably to lead to crises and retreat.

In 2003, FARC negotiator Ricardo Palmera, known as Simon Trinidad, was in Ecuador to negotiate humanitarian exchange with a UN official, when he was kidnapped, returned to Colombia, extradited to the United States, and sentenced to decades in jail.

On Oct. 19, 2006, a bomb went off at a Bogota military academy, injuring 20 bystanders. Uribe charged the FARC with responsibility. The attack, never explained, ended talks on demilitarizing small areas in preparation for negotiations on prisoner exchanges.

Last year President Uribe abruptly fired President Chavez and Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba from their roles as facilitators of exchanges. In early January, hostage exchange was aborted because of Colombian military threats.

This time, the government’s response to the release of hostages, four of them on Feb. 27, was to murder Reyes, the FARC’s main hostage negotiator.

FARC insurgents portrayed as terrorists and jailers serve as scapegoats as the Uribe regime attempts to shore up support. Said Jose Delgado, writing for Znet, “If the FARC did not exist, they would have to be invented. They are the principal excuse for the overwhelming military spending and to justify indefinite re-election.” At 6.3 percent, Colombian defence spending equals outlays for health, education, and environmental services combined.

Scandals confront Uribe
Last year, Uribe faced serious scandals stemming from revelations of ties between the paramilitary United Self Defense Forces of Colombia and ruling elements in Colombian society. According to U.S. government sources, the paramilitaries have accounted for over 80 percent of Colombia’s political assassinations and much drug trafficking. Washington’s support for Colombian military and police operations, totaling $3.8 billion over six years, raises questions of U.S. complicity with human rights abuses there. A declassified U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency document stated, “Alvaro Uribe used high government offices to collaborate with the Medellin cartel.” The document adds, “Uribe was implicated with drug dealing activities in the United States.”

Thirteen Colombian congresspersons went to jail because of ties to murderous, private, right-wing paramilitary groups. A former government intelligence chief has been implicated, and Uribe’s foreign minister resigned because of family connections with the paramilitaries.

Then in April 2007, Sen. Gustavo Petro accused Uribe family members and the president himself of organizing and assisting paramilitaries and drug traffickers in Antioquia state. Plus, disclosures that the government had monitored telephone calls of politicians and union leaders for two years led to the recent resignation of high-ranking police officers, the national police chief and the intelligence head.

So on May 25, 2007, Uribe announced plans to release hundreds of guerrilla prisoners in preparation for a negotiated exchange. His switch suggested his mounting concerns over the political fallout from recent revelations about government-paramilitary ties and a rising popular mobilization against his policies.

At that time, Carlos Lozano, editor of the Communist newspaper Voz, saw President Richard Nixon as a model for Alvaro Uribe. “For much less than all of this, Richard Nixon fell in the United States. … This could mean the end of Uribe.”

Yet, with the anti-FARC military offensive, Uribe has been able to shift the political momentum and change the discussion.

Proxy warrior
Aggravating neighbors, Colombia serves as proxy warrior in the region for North American paymasters. Military mobilization in Venezuela, provoked by Colombia, threatens to put dissident military and business figures there on the spot, undermining support for the Chavez government.

Having labeled the FARC as a terrorist organization after the attacks on September 11, 2001, Washington casts social revolution in one country as an international problem, evident last month when Israel announced the sale of 24 Kfir fighter jets to the Uribe regime.

The latest incident recalls for anti-imperialists that rulers of a country where 5 percent of the population controls 90 percent of all property, 82 percent of the rural population lives in poverty , and 0.4 per cent of landowners own 61 per cent of agricultural land will stop at nothing to preserve privileges.

In 1984, the FARC, looking at peaceful resolution of social conflict, organized the Patriotic Union to run left candidates in national and regional elections, only have thousands of candidates and other leftists murdered at the hands of thugs hired by the well to do.

Class war persists in Colombia, along with the Monroe Doctrine. With popular struggle on the move, however, U.S. domination is threatened, and Colombia serves at best as a residual beachhead.

W.T. Whitney is a member of the People’s Weekly World editorial board and frequently writes news and analysis on countries in Central and South America.