The Colombian Congress has been on recess since March 24th due to the implementation of a national quarantine to curb the spread of COVID-19. The quarantine was originally set to finish on April 13th, however has since been extended to finish on the 27th. During this time, Colombian opposition Congressman have been forced to send a letter to the Colombian President, Iván Duque Márquez, criticizing him for allowances afforded to the U.S. in regard to intervention within their neighbouring country, Venezuela. On April 1st, the U.S. President, Donald Trump, announced he was sending U.S. naval vessels, some carrying helicopters and ground troops, to Venezuela to bolster counter-narcotics operations in the region. The move was welcomed by President Duque.
In the letter, the Congressman stated that the support given to the U.S. on behalf of the Colombian government by the Minister of Defense, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, was ‘extremely worrying’. They also called the President’s attention to Article 237-3 of the Political Constitution that states the government cannot permit the transit of foreign troops through national territory, nor the engagement in an international war or military exercise without the permission of the Congress of the Republic. The Congressman also raised concerns regarding the President’s actions given the already pressing issue of COVID-19 in the country.
“The recent declaration by the Minister of Defense on the support of the Colombian government for a possible intervention of North American troops in the sister Republic of Venezuela, is extremely worrying and immediately warrants a statement by the Head of State… The priority today in Colombia, the region and the world is to find a way to overcome the social and economic crisis to which it has been subjected by the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deviating from this purpose to commit budget resources, human capital and institutional capacity in a war to overthrow a government in the region, in addition to violating our Constitution, would turn out to be abuse, illegality and a violation of international law,” stated an excerpt from the letter.
Trump insists the deployment was sent amidst the COVID-19 crisis specifically, “As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus there is a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists, and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain”.
However, as detailed in the letter, many experts suggest this to be a false rationale, with the U.S.’ real goal being to increase military pressure in efforts to overthrow the Maduro regime within Venezuela. The deployment is one of the largest in the region since the 1989 invasion of Panama, and came only five days after the U.S. indicted Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, and 14 members of his inner circle, on charges of drug trafficking, corruption and money laundering. The U.S. invaded Panama in 1989 only a year after charging its leader, General Manuel Noriega, with similar charges that have now been laid upon Maduro. Suspicions have arisen as to whether Maduro and Venezuela will suffer a similar fate.
The U.S. seeks the resignation of Maduro on the grounds that his election in 2018 was fraudulent, his economic policies have led to a severe economic collapse, causing mass starvation and migration from the country, and a belief that Maduro’s government is guilty of corruption and drug trafficking. President Duque supports the U.S. in their endeavours, as he believes the Maduro regime is guilty of supporting armed, criminal and narcoterrorist groups that work to destabilise Colombia. Maduro, and critics of U.S. aggression, claim the collapse of the economy is due to heavy sanctions imposed by the U.S., and U.S. intervention is fuelled by a covet for Venezuela’s oil.
Whatever the premise of the military build-up, it seems Trump and Duque have collaboratively taken advantage of the recess of Congress to avoid having to secure the approval of a Colombian Senate that is largely against U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. Investigations as to whether Duque has violated the Colombian Constitution by allowing the stationing of foreign troops without Congress’ approval must be carried out.
Military de-escalation along the Venezuelan-Colombian border, and along the Venezuelan coast is also essential and applicable to all parties involved, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Military Times, an invasion of Venezuela would require approximately 150,000 U.S. troops, who would come up against as many as 356,000 Venezuelan troops. With Maduro’s unwillingness to resign, any conflict would likely be prolonged and would cause a large number of casualties. Furthermore, a war would detract from money, time and resources that can be put into managing the spread of COVID-19, and likely exacerbate the pandemic within Venezuela and Colombia. Neither Colombia nor Venezuela can afford these costs right now.
Furthermore, the U.S. and Colombia must refrain from partaking in any act that would violate Article 2(4) of the UN Charter; “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of political independence of any state, or in any manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”. In the latest meeting held by the Security Council on February 26th, 2019, to discuss the situation in Venezuela, the consensus was that Venezuela’s people must resolve their own problems through solutions based on respect for national sovereignty.