Peace Breaks Out on Colombia's Borders

There are still Venezuelan and Ecuadorian troops massed along the Colombian border, but for now, at least, the threat of war here has given way to brotherhood.

After some heated exchanges between the presidents of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador over the last week, the tension was diffused with some awkward hugs and handshakes between the sparring leaders at Friday's summit in the Dominican Republic.

Remarkably, all it took was an apology from Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, the most loyal ally the United States has in this region.

A week ago, Uribe sent his troops across Ecuador's border to kill Raul Reyes, one of the top leaders of the leftist guerrilla group called the FARC that has terrorized Colombia for decades, fueled by the drug trade.

Since 2000, the United States has spent billions of dollars on military aid to Colombia to help crush the guerillas and their cocaine trafficking. It is called Plan Colombia, and after almost a decade it may be finally working.

The FARC's forces have been severely weakened, its leadership now seriously damaged. Many FARC guerrillas now take refuge across Colombia's borders with Venezuela and Ecuador.

Neither country has the resources or an incentive to push the guerrillas out -- which is why the Colombian government calculated that a strike into a FARC headquarters just a mile or so into Ecuador's territory was worth the potential diplomatic backlash.

And there was backlash.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa recalled his ambassador to protest the incursion into his country's territory.

Then, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez added to the tension. The leftist, anti-American leader threatened war if Colombia conducted raids into his country. He moved several thousand troops to his country's border with Colombia.

It may be no coincidence that this latest bluster from Chavez comes as his popularity declines here in Venezuela. Despite this country's vast oil reserves, there is a shortage of basic goods and double-digit inflation. War might be a convenient distraction, but he can ill afford to fight one.

It can't be forgotten that Colombia's U.S.-equipped army is far bigger and far better-trained then Venezuela's or tiny Ecuador's.

And so at Friday's summit, all three men exchanged harsh words -- then handshakes.

Who won?

"Well I think that the unequivocal political winner in the this recent conflict has to be president Alvaro Uribe, from Colombia," said Christopher Garman, Latin American specialist with the New York-based Eurasia Group. "At the end of the day, the Uribe administration was able to make significant inroads in breaking the organizational strength of the FARC guerillas."

The biggest losers may be hundreds of hostages held for years by the Colombian guerrillas, especially the four most-valued hostages -- three Americans and Ingrid Betancourt, former Colombian presidential candidate.

Now that the FARC is on the defensive, Colombia's government has little reason to negotiate, and the guerrillas have little reason to show any good will.