Chavez has riled more than a few national leaders with his angry rhetoric and shallow threats, but now he's turning against his neighbor, Colombia. An early turn came a few years ago when four Venezuelan soldiers were caught spying on Colombia. The Colombian military called President Uriba, who said "Give them a hug, tell them that they're our brothers, and send them home." Why was Chavez spying on Colombia? Nobody knows, but it goes against the two country's long history of peace.
In 2008, Colombia attacked a FARC guerilla camp in Ecuador, just over the border from Colombia. This was an unprecedented move which upset relations with Ecuador, but netted some very "interesting" information. Besides the fact that Ecuador was harboring the guerillas, two laptops revealed records that over the last several years, Chavez had funneled over $300 million dollars to finance the FARC in their fight against Colombia. Again, we ask why?
Earlier this year Chavez manually, and arbitrarily, reset the exchange rate for the Venezulan dollar. He instituted a two-teir pricing system that would make domestic goods cheaper but double the prices of imports. In the long run, all the prices will rise as Venezuela has very little domestic producing capacity and has to rely on imports for most manufactured goods. But in the short term, it netted the goverment an extra $50 million USD from oil sales, that he was free to use as he wished. It just so happens that his re-election is just a few months down the road. One of the other effects of this monetary change? Colombian farmers who exported agricultural products to Venezuela, were shafted out of their payments. Trade between these two countries was effectively killed, even though Colombia used to be Venezuela's biggest trade partner.
Just this week, a Colombian family living in Venezuela has been accused of espianoge. The family of 8, who run an ice-cream factory in Venezuela, have been jailed on the basis that the father of the family had taken a photo of an electrical substation. He was later found to have pictures of bridges, roads and buildings. Under this criteira, I would be considered a spy in every country I've been too. Chavez didn't stop there, however. He further blamed the "spies" with acts of sabatoge to the electrical infrastructure. Venezuela has been in a painful draught this last year, which, as a result of their heavy dependence on hydroelectric power, means that they have also faced dire power shortages. Chavez has previously blamed the lack of rain, but not he has a new reason: these Colombian spies have been behind it all. Never mind the fact that the family has lived in Venezuela for 17 years. It's also convenient to neglect the fact that Chavez spent $9.4 billion on Russian weapons instead of improving the power infrastructure, among other things that need help.
Also this week, I was alerted to the fact that Caracas is one of the 10-most dangerous cities in the world and holds the noble distinction of being the murder-capital of the world. Way to go Chavez. Look who is Number One now, biatch!
While Colombia is not completely safe and has it's own violent history, things are quickly improving. Years ago, the Colombian cities of Medellin, Cali and Bogota were high on those lists of most dangerous places. Now, none of them are. Colombia sees five time more international travelers than Venezuela, even though Colombia is the only country with a US State "Travel Warning." Chavez is vehenmentally opposed to the right-leaning Colombian government, who, along with US help, is aggresively and successfully dismantling the FARC. People say the war on drugs isn't working, but I can tell you that in Colombia's case, it has made a huge difference.
While Kristin doesn't feel as safe as I do, we have not had any problems in our month in Colombia. We have encountered some of the friendliest people in South America. The only safety issues other travelers have exprienced are the corrupt Ecuadorian border police, who are notorious for stealing valuables while rifling through your backpack during the customs "inspection." We have one more week of traveling south before hitting the Ecuador border. You can bet that we'll employ all of our tricks to stop the border police from taking any of our belongings.
I apologize for the heavy nature of this blog, but I believe it is an important issue that might not get fully covered in the US. Most of this info is all stuff that I have learned while traveling. In the US we have this image of Colombia as dangerous and maybe we know of Chavez as a little off his rocker. But he's crazy and could personally cause distability (or war) here in northern part of South America.
And if it wasn't obvious, this also explains why we are traveling in Colombia and not Venezuela.
Colombia: Turning Guns into Guitars