Colombian troops attacked inside Ecuador on March 1, destroying a camp occupied by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Ecuadorian soldiers later found 23 bodies, including those of five Mexican young people visiting the site. The dead included FARC leader and negotiator Raul Reyes.

To release bombs, Colombian planes had to violate six miles of Ecuadorian airspace. Helicopters dropped off 60 Colombian troops who dispatched survivors and took Reyes’ body back to Colombia. Evidence showed the rebels were sleeping when attacked. Colombia alleged self defense and hot pursuit.

President Rafael Correa of Ecuador broke diplomatic relations with Colombia, dispatched troops to the border, and embarked on a five nation tour to recruit support. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also broke with Colombia and dispatched 10 tank battalions along Venezuela’s shared 1,400 mile border, which he closed. The two presidents blamed Washington for an attack that U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, visiting in Colombia, called “a political and strategic master-stroke.”

Latin American and European nations backed President Correa. On March 5, the Organization of American States condemned Colombia for violating Ecuador’s sovereignty. Two days later in Santo Domingo, at a summit meeting of the Rio Group of 22 Latin American nations, Rafael Correa delivered a militant speech. The assembly responded by rejecting “this violation of Ecuadorian territorial integrity” and accepting apologies and promises from President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia.

Military officials alleged that Raul Reyes’ computer confirmed Venezuelan payments of $300 million to the FARC Ecuador’s ties to the guerrillas, and FARC plans to obtain and sell uranium to pay for arms. The charges, laden with inconsistencies, were denied.

The attack came two days after the FARC released four hostages to Venezuelan authorities; two others went free on Jan. 10. President Hugo Chavez, facilitating along with Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, got much of the credit. The FARC negotiator was Raul Reyes.

President Correa disclosed that the massacre put off the imminent release of 13 other hostages. Hostage exchanges are widely assumed to be a necessary prerequisite for peace in Colombia.

U.S. Admiral Joseph Nimmich met with Colombian military leaders on Feb. 27. Colombian officials indicated that the FARC campsite had been targeted through data obtained from U.S. controlled satellite localization devices.

“We don’t have a war in Colombia. We have a terrorist problem,” declared President Uribe. Metamorphosis of Colombia’s anti-insurgency campaign to war on terror sheds light on the massacre.

The attack may have been intended as advertisement for Colombian anti-terrorist prowess, especially as hundreds of thousands of protesters against paramilitary and state sponsored violence were preparing to march in 21 Colombian cities on March 6.

The attack coincided with a visit by U.S. congresspersons and secretaries of labor and commerce on behalf of the stalled U.S.-Colombia free trade treaty. Uribe briefed them on the assault.

War on terror distracts from scandals plaguing the regime. Multinational corporations, notably Chiquita, and some 75 politicians friendly to Uribe have been exposed as tied to murderous paramilitaries and drug traffickers. Uribe himself and family members are implicated.

Focusing on so-called terrorists, the attack encourages scapegoating of regime critics. Once labeled as FARC sympathizers, or leftists, activists are vulnerable. Thousands have paid with their lives for standing up to an oligarchy that has displaced four million people, stolen 15 million acres, and made 15,000 disappear.

The killings may have been intended to block prisoner release and progress toward peace, not a new scenario. In 2003 Ricardo Palmera, known as Simon Trinidad, was preparing for prisoner exchanges in Ecuador when he was captured and later sent to Colombia, extradited to the United States, and sentenced to decades in jail. An unexplained bomb blast at a Bogota military academy ended hostage negotiations in October 2006.

“If the FARC did not exist, they would have to be invented,” writes Jose Delgado in ZNet. “They are the principal excuse for the overwhelming military spending,” he adds.

Spending by a state subsisting on war makes up 6.3 percent of Colombia’s GDP.

Analysts see the massacre as emblematic of U.S. plans for regional war. Colombia is cast as a proxy warrior defending imperial interests in a hostile region, a role attributed to Israel in the Middle East.

A prime target would be the revolutionary government of oil-rich Venezuela, already buffeted by paramilitary incursions and Colombian support for separatists. Had the attack provoked an exaggerated military response by Ecuador and Venezuela and dangerous over-reaction, objectives would have been met.

President Correa viewed the incident as part of a “strategy to destabilize the Ecuadorian government in order to put another puppet in Ecuador.”

“Animated by the victory of peace and sovereignty obtained in the Río Group,” according to a statement, Venezuela’s government renewed diplomatic relations with Colombia on March 9. The importance of Latin American unity was cited.