Leftist presidents are in power in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay; next year Mexico and Peru might have leftist presidents . . . but none of them are a threat to their poor, or to their neighbors. Interestingly, the only president of a country in the Americas who is a time-release bomb, the paratrooper-coronel Hugo Chávez, can’t really be categorized as leftist. In practical terms, he’s not really socialist nor marxist.
Revista Veja lists three ways through which Chávez is a threat to Latin American democracy and stability:
- He’s not satisfied with making Venezuelans’ lives hell, but wants to expand his sphere of influence through Latin America
- He can use the easy money generated from oil for this purpose
- He’s planting the seeds of insurrection and instability in countries that are now nominally democratic
The article goes on to describe how Chávez has changed the political landscape, as Mortimer Zucherman explained earlier this year,
Chavez’s frontal attack on civil society, reducing state institutions to mere shadows with only ceremonial powers. Just for starters, Chavez has rewritten Venezuela’s Constitution to enhance his powers, purged critics in the military, set up legislation to pack the Supreme Court, intimidated the media by threatening the expropriation of the licenses of private television stations that supported the opposition, and given succor to thousands of Castro’s military and intelligence officers, along with many social and medical workers, while tens of thousands of young Venezuelans have been sent to Cuba for indoctrination.
The article explains that Chávez’s plans to open a munitions factory (which Russia’s willing to sell him) for the manufacture of bullets (for which the FARC narco-guerrillas pay as much as $2 apiece) to be used in those 100,000 Russian Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles recently bought from Spain is cause for worry, not only to the USA but to Venezuela’s neighbors, including Brazil. While Brazilian President Lula da Silva first considered Chávez a fellow leftist, the article states that presently Chávez has become Lula’s greatest source of irritation, and Chávez resents the respect Lula obtains in other countries.
Reading a different article, in FrontPageMagazine.com, Lula and everybody else will have much more to worry about once Chávez receives a few North Korean missiles
For the past decade North Korea’s main export has been missiles. North Korea has been an equal opportunity proliferator. It sold missiles to Iraq under Saddam, to Iran, Syria, Libya, and possibly Pakistan. Just prior to the War in Iraq American ships intercepted a North Korean freighter bound for Yemen with a load of missiles. America insisted that the missiles remain in Yemen. It is probable that the missiles were intended to be transshipped to Syria by road. This batch was intercepted but more leak through untouched.
The North Koreans can offer Chavez a variety on their menu of death: SCUDs are typically at the bottom of the rung, a kind of “start up package” for international thugs. Short range, about 300 km, rather inaccurate, capable of being more of a terror weapon than a precise military missile, the SCUD was been bothersome in Gulf War I. But North Korea has made significant improvements on the basic SCUD-C, known in its inventory as Hwasong-6. Now with a boosted range of approximately 700 km, carrying a 700 kg payload and engineered with improved accuracy, a Hwasong launched from Venezuela could attack Bogota easily and hit targets in the Panama Canal region. However, this is hardly the limit of North Korean technology. They can also provide Chavez with the Nodong and the Taepodong class missiles. When these systems are present the price of intimidation rises dramatically in the region.
For example, the basic Nodong class missile is capable of reaching approximately 1,500 km. It threatens targets as far away as Mexico and possibly the coastal southern United States. With a payload lighter than the 800 kg for which it is rated it might stretch range a bit longer. On the other hand, a Taepodong I, the basic intermediate range missile that North Korea has tested by firing it over the Japanese islands, can hit targets as far away as Atlanta. Perhaps more germane to Chavez’s megalomaniac concept of himself as head of an imperial South America is the fact that such weapons would be extremely intimidating to his neighbors who have neither the finances nor the capabilities to counter his threats. The specter of an oil-rich, highly-armed, anti-American dictator who makes his own law could be extremely appealing to regional revolutionary groups and criminal enterprises that might see him as providing a protective umbrella. Chavez might be a magnet to pull all anti-democratic forces together in his region.
The prospect of a nuclear North Korea makes this prospect even more onerous. However, as Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu explains,
To date these threats have not materialized and it is unwise to panic over them. That said, it would be equally unwise to delay contingency planning until missiles and high performance aircraft begin unloading on the docks of Caracas or worse, bullying Venezuela’s neighbors.
Once de abril blog links to a paper titled What To Do About Venezuela which appraises the situation. While the paper points to peaceful change by next year, I firmly believe change must come from within.
Chávez appears to have huge support from the poor: The Venezuelan poor seem to love Chávez’s nanny state, and his extremely succesful public relations gimmicks. Fidel Castro is Chávez mentor in many ways, and Castro’s pupil is exceeding his master. Sadly, as Revista Veja shows, things are a lot worse since Chávez took power:
I had mentioned in a prior post that “poverty in Venezuela rose from 43 percent to 54 percent of the population during Chávez’s first four years in office. And extreme poverty — the percentage of the population that lives on less than $1 a day — grew from 17 percent to 25 percent during the same period, the figures show.” In case you wonder where those numbers came from, they came straight from Venezuela itself.
These numbers are even more dismal when you consider that the price of oil has increased by 600% since Chávez came to power.
Chávez’s term in office relies heavily on what he does with the oil profits. It remains to be seen for how long he can keep up his social welfare programs, in Venezuela and in Cuba, while neglecting his own country’s infrastructure. After all, oil production depends on how well the wells and refineries are maintained.
Prior posts on Chávez’s Venezuela, the story that has been ignored by the MSM and many big blogs:
Rome burns, Nero fiddles; Venezuelan poverty increases, NYT can’t see it
Venezuela’s oily path to communism
The Venezuela, Cuba, and Qatar get-together in Havana
Venezuela’s oil monopoly will use Habana as its base of operations for the Caribbean
One more step towards cloning Venezuela as Cuba: free copies of Don Quijote
The UN, Venezuela, and the EU
Chávez, his arms race, and his t-shirt allies
Venezuela’s homegrown Oil-For-Food: the squeeze
More on Venezuela’s Oil-For-What?
Cuba and China
Mr. Bean* [heart] Mini-Me [heart] WMDs?
High oil prices
Mr. Bean* [heart] Mini-Me
“How about Venezuela?”
Chávez has been networking
Chavez, the next t-shirt icon