Colombia’s President Santos is in a dilemma. Last August, Colombia captured Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled, considered by the U.S. the third most important kingpin in the world. To add more drama, Makled has confessed that he was assisted by high-ranking Venezuelan officials in his illegal operations. Makled will elaborate more, if he is extradited to the U.S. Coincidentally, Venezuela’s Chavez has been cozy lately with President Santos, one reason may be to persuade Makled’s extradition to Caracas, an effort to muzzle Makled and mitigate damage.
President Santos has signaled that Makled will be extradited to Venezuela. Ever since President Santos was elected, he has pursued a reset of his country’s relationship with Venezuela. It appears that the Colombian government wants to return to the normal trade and political relations that existed before the political crisis of 2008 and the bilateral trade crisis of 2010. The fallout began when President Santos acting as Defense Minister ordered a raid into Ecuador—successfully killing FARC leader Raul Reyes. Since then, exports to Venezuela have fallen more than 50 percent. However, Venezuela was Colombia’s biggest export market after the U.S., thus Colombia’s dependence towards Venezuela.
The problem: Colombia is too introverted, not able to expand their horizon wholeheartedly at an international level. There exists insurmountable evidence that Chavez not only has a record of fostering refuge for FARC guerillas, but has also provided significant subsidies to the terrorist organization FARC. There are also reports that he is an official state sponsor of another terrorist organization, Hezbollah. Chavez’ company is not the most admired, embracing the politics and solidarity of Iran’s Ahmadinejad and North Korea’s Kim Jong II. Although President Santos has promised to mend relations with Venezuela, no binding agreement to extradite Market to Venezuela has been penned in ink so far. If Makled has vital information that can expose Chavez and his administration, then why not extradite Makled to the U.S., potentially accelerating Chavez’s demise. On the other hand, lately the U.S. has not done any favors for Colombia by delaying or wavering on the Free Trade Agreement between Colombia and the U.S. But once again not all is bad for Colombia; the U.S. reluctance of signing the agreement has galvanized Colombia to seek alternative free trade agreements with Canada and the EU.
The trade break between Colombia and Venezuela can be a blessing in disguise. Colombia has pushed forward in a more organic manner and domestically based. Moreover, Colombia has expanded their international trade partners, now looking to expand in markets such as the UAE, Vietnam, Peru and Eastern Europe. Also, after the drastic fall of exports to Venezuela, Colombia has increased exports to the U.S. and is taking advantage of trade with China, with exports jumping to a 172 percent increase.
President Santos has a valuable ace card in his pocket, but using it to improve its’ relations with Venezuela may be too short-sighted. Chavez has compromised the judicial branch in his country, so it is not far fetched too assume Makled will not get a fair trial. Secondly, Colombia does need Venezuela, but Venezuela also needs Colombia; maybe even more now with Venezuela losing its capacity to provide sufficient amount of food combined with increasing food prices. Colombia and Venezuela share a symbiotic relationship, similar to the U.S. and China. As much as Chavez will label Colombia a U.S. puppet if Makled were to be extradited to the U.S., eventually the hostilities will subdue and things will return to a shade of normalcy. The only positive that would come about if Makled is sent to Venezuela is that Chavez has promised and has begun advancing payment of debts owed to Colombian exporters. Albeit, exporters receiving payment for their goods is important, but that’s an account receivable issue, Makled is a political issue that can cause damage to Chavez’s reign.
Being friendly with your neighbors cannot be overstated, but moments do occur in history when two countries are just not compatible for a multitude of reasons. It is commented frequently that Venezuela is becoming the Cuba of the 21st century, being ‘saved’ by their oil resources. Chavez and his ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ are driving Venezuela into a perpetual recession, not aligning with free market principles. Colombia on the hand is in the process of merging their stock markets with Chile and Peru (MILA), and just recently they have signed a regional pact with Chile, Mexico, Peru and possibly Panama. So, to extradite Makled to Venezuela would be two steps back, and unfortunately, one step forward for Chavez.