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Where Is the 'Right' in Latin America's Left Turn?

Recent events in Latin America are indicative of the prevailing political instability. The laptops seized during a raid by the Colombian government on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in Ecuador allegedly reveal linkages between the leftist leaders of Venezuela/ Colombia and the rebels. Another indication of political fluidity is the case of the Bolivian separatist elites fostering autonomy claims, which could fuel regionalist sentiments across countries.

LETTER FROM AMERICAmay 24, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly8Where Is the ‘Right’ in Latin America’s Left Turn?Sujatha FernandesRecent events in Latin America are indicative of the prevailing political instability. The laptops seized during a raid by the Colombian government on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in Ecuador allegedly reveal linkages between the leftist leaders of Venezuela/Colombia and the rebels. Another indication of political fluidity is the case of the Bolivian separatist elites fostering autonomy claims, which could fuel regionalist sentiments across countries.Next week, the International Criminal Police Organisation (commonly known as Interpol) is due to hand down the results of a forensic audit of the files found on laptops that were reportedly seized during a raid on a rebel encamp-ment of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (farc) in Ecuador by the Colombian government on March 1. The Colombian government led by president Alvaro Uribe is claiming that evidence was found on the laptops linkingtheleftist leaders of Venezuela and Colombiatothe rebels. Several international observers, including the Organisation of American States (OAS) secretary general Jose Miguel Insulza, believe the claims to be largely fabricated. They warn that the findings of the Interpol report should not be taken at face value, as the Colombian government is asserting they should. Ecuadorian diplomats attested that Colombia had not proven that the laptops were recovered from the rebel camp andtheyhavenot described their methods of retrieving the data. Yet, the claims by Colombian autho-rities, along with its provocative act of ag-gression on Ecuadorian soil, have alerted some to the possibility of destabilisation that the region faces from right wing forces and governments.Some of the first responses from the right to the rise of left wing leaders in Latin America came from the opposition in Venezuela to the government of Hugo Chávez. Oil executives in the petro-state participated in a three-month general strike that preceded the brief coup of April 2002, after which Chávez was brought back to office by a series of large demon-strations in the streets. Following a lock-out and dismissal of 18,000 employees by the opposition in December of the same year, Chávez took control of the oil com-pany and restructured it. Failing to remove Chávez unconstitutionally, the opposition attempted to legally remove Chávez from office through a recall referendum in August 2004. But through a large turnout of voters, this recall attempt was also defeated. With the Venezuelan army loyal to Chávez and the legal avenues also exhausted, the opposition has turned to diplomatic and military manoeuvres, both of which were implicated in the most recent offensive by Colombia.Washington’s PatronageThe right wing opposition in Venezuela has tried to portray Chávez as a dictator, a terrorist, and responsible for destabilising the region. The conservative Uribe govern-ment, also concerned with its growing isolation amidst a rising left wing consen-sus in south America, has latched onto these accusations, suggesting that the evidence from laptops offers proof that Chávez has been funding the farc rebels. They allege that the mention of “the 300” on one of the laptops offers proof that the Venezuelan government was to give $ 300 million to thefarc rebels. In the farc documents there is reference to a person named “Angel”, and Colombian officials believe this to be a code name for Chávez. In a letter initiated by a group of historians at New York University, they argue that there is no basis for these claims, and in fact, the use of both of the names “Angel” and “Chávez” sometimes in the same paragraph belies this interpretation. Any relationship with the Venezuelan leader that may appear in the files is highly likely to be connected to Chávez’s role as mediator in the hostage negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC, which began in the fall of 2007.Colombia’s ties to Washington led Chávez to call it the “Israel of Latin America”, saying that both countries portrayed themselves as besieged within a hostile region, and claimed the right to bomb their neighbours on orders from Washington. When Colombia entered Ecuadorian terri-tory in pursuit of the farc on March 1, they bombed the rebel camp, killed about 20 people, including FARC leader Raul Reyes, and supposedly also seized the laptops. Following Colombia’s March 1 incursion, Ecuador and Venezuela both Sujatha Fernándes (sujathaf@yahoo.com) is with the sociology department at Queens College, City University of New York, USA.

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