Colombia's Killing of Rebel Could Backfire

When the Colombian government announced that it had killed a top rebel commander, it was a reason to celebrate in Bogotá.

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When the Colombian government announced that it had killed a top rebel commander, it was a reason to celebrate in Bogotá.

After all, Raul Reyes was the No. 2 figure in the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has been waging a prolonged and violent insurgency for four decades.

But the operation by the Colombian military took place on Ecuadoran soil and has provoked howls of protest from leftist leaders in Ecuador and Venezuela.

"This could be the start of a war in South America," warned Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. He and Ecuador's president sent additional soldiers to Colombia's borders and recalled their top diplomats.

Tensions have been building between Colombia and its two neighbors, whom Bogotá accuses of harboring FARC guerrillas. While experts still see a shooting war as unlikely, the incident is highlighting the stark political divisions in the region.

For Colombia, the killing of Reyes is the latest in a string of successes in its battle against the FARC. Only eight years ago, the nation was on the brink of civil war, with the FARC and other guerrillas blamed for an unprecedented epidemic of kidnappings. In this week's issue, U.S. News explores how Colombia turned the tide against the kidnappers and the FARC, with the help of some U.S. training.

— Kevin Whitelaw