San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

S. American Crisis Unnerves Expats, Analysts

A resolution Wednesday by the Organization of American States (OAS) is expected to cool the conflict between Colombia and its neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela, but it does not address the problem’s roots, Costa Rican experts say.

The OAS created a high-level committee to research exactly what happened Saturday, when a Colombian air strike in Ecuador killed 24 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), including its No. 2 leader Raúl Reyes.

The committee will present its findings March 17 before the region’s ministers of foreign affairs, who will propose strategies to “bring (Ecuador and Colombia) closer together.”

The OAS called the attack a violation of Ecuador’s national sovereignty, but it did not explicitly condemn Colombia, as Ecuador had requested.

The resolution came shortly after Ecuador and Venezuela mobilized troops toward their borders with Colombia, and Ecuador broke diplomatic ties with its northern neighbor.

Meanwhile, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said he plans to file a complaint against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in the International Criminal Court in The Hague accusing Chávez of funneling $300 million to FARC, a Marxist insurgency that has fought the Colombian government for more than 40 years.

Costa Rica pushed hard this week for a peaceful end to the crisis. President Oscar Arias talked on the phone with Uribe and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, while Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno spoke with his counterparts in the two nations.

Stagno, who backed the OAS resolution, called Colombia’s attack a “grave violation” of international norms, but he also strongly criticized FARC for causing trouble on Colombia’s porous borders. He implied that Venezuela should not meddle in what is a bilateral conflict.

“We would like to…avoid the internationalization of a border issue in which FARC is the main culprit,” he said.

International relations expert Maynard Ríos called the resolution a victory for the OAS, though he said the crisis has been suspended, not solved.

“The situation is on standby,” said Ríos, professor emeritus at the National University (UNA) in Heredia, north of San José. “The verbal spats will continue.”

Costa Rica, he said, has an “ethical duty,” as a member of the United Nations Security Council, to continue playing a “dynamic, active” role in the regional crisis. The Security Council will step in only if the OAS ultimately fails to quell the conflict.

The crisis has alarmed Colombian expatriates living in Costa Rica, thousands of miles away from their families. Some 11,650 Colombians, most refugees from the Colombian conflict, have permanent or temporary residency here, making them the second biggest group of expats after Nicaraguans, according to the Immigration Administration.

Fidel Gómez, 29, who works for the Center for Justice and International Law in San José, told his family to get a passport for his sister so they could flee to Chile should war break out.

Gina Vargas, 29, who works at the French-Costa Rican Chamber of Commerce, says she prays for her parents and sister, who live outside Bogota.

“It’s a very tense calm because everyone is waiting to see what happens,” she said. “It’s hard. In Costa Rica, we live in peace, but we know our families are in danger in Colombia.”

Despite the resolution, Correa and Chávez on Wednesday night continued to rail on Uribe in a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, broadcast live on CNN.

They said the crisis would continue until the international community clearly condemns the Colombian attack.

“I don’t think there will be war,” said Costa Rican political expert Constantino Urcuyo. “(But) the causes of the conflict are still there. My position is ‘wait and see.’”


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