Sunday, November 15, 2009

Columbian Venezuelan Dispute Threatens Regional Stability

Financial Times – Locals suffer in spat over US-Columbia pact

Financial Times – Columbia appeals to UN over Chavez threat

The Wall Street Journal – Obama is Optimistic About U.S., Columbia Free Trade Deal

El Universal – Samper rebuts Columbia’s decision to turn to UN, OAS after Chavez “war talk”

The crisis between Venezuela and Columbia continues to intensify. Early this month, a Columbian football team was killed by Marxist guerillas in Venezuela. Shortly after that attack, Venezuela accused Columbian paramilitary forces of killing two Venezuelan national guards. On November 5th, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez moved 15,000 troops to the Columbian border. On November 8th, Mr. Chavez informed his military commanders to prepare for war. Mr. Chavez’s order appears to be related to an agreement signed between Columbia and the United States in August 2009 that permits the United States to use seven Columbian bases. Mr. Chavez thinks that the increased military presence of the United States in the region represents a threat to Venezuela’s large oil reserves.

Columbia’s agreement to permit the United States on seven of its military bases appears to be another step towards convincing the United States to approve a bilateral trade agreement between the two countries. Columbia and the United States have discussed opening a bilateral trade agreement since 2006. This summer, President Barack Obama met with Columbian President Alaro Uribe and discussed strategies for strengthening the relationship between the countries. The bilateral trade agreement has stalled in the United States Congress, as Congressional Democrats, pressured by labor leaders, have held the free trade agreement up.

In 2008, Columbia and Venezuela entered into a bilateral trade agreement. As bordering territories, Venezuelan citizens depend on Columbian imports for staple supplies such as chickens and milk, and Columbian businesses depend on the Venezuelan export market. Last year, Columbian business exported nearly $6 billion of products to Venezuela. Trade between the two nations grew to over $7 billion during 2008. In August, Mr. Chavez stated his desire to reduce trade between the two nations “to zero.” This year, bilateral trade is expected to fall more than 50%. Columbia has petitioned the WTO to intervene in the trade dispute. Former Columbian President Ernesto Samper expressed doubts that the WTO will solve the crisis, and has suggested that a resolution will only come about through diplomatic discussions between the two countries. Citizens of both countries in the border region would benefit greatly from a quick resolution to this conflict.

Discussion Questions:

Will Columbia opening military bases to the United States cause the United States to enter into a bilateral trade agreement with it?

Did Columbian leadership make the right decision by permitting the United States to use its military basis?

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