The Freeman's Burden:

To defend the principles of human liberty; to educate; to be vigilant against the ever expanding power of the state.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The long shadow of war hangs over Northern South America

Last month Venezuelans went to the polls in a recall election of the country's democratically elected leftist president Hugo Chavez. The exit polls showed Chavez being soundly recalled by a 60%-40% margin, but when election officials announced the results Chavez was said to have survived the recall by a similar tally. The endemic corruption of Venezuela's current ruling elite now threatens more than its own democracy. Chavez has nationalized industry, fired his professional oil managers, increased the cost of international oil companies doing business in Venezuela by more than sixteen times, cozied up to Castro's Cuba, handcuffed the media, cut deals with Iran, waged war on landowners in his own country and arrested political opponents. But all this would be of only marginal concern to the rest of us (Venezuela is one of the United States top oil suppliers) if it were contained to Venezuela. Unfortunately, Chavez has also massively increased Venezuela's military budget and has been on a buying binge. He has purchased large numbers of tanks, air craft and missile systems from, you guessed it, Russia. At the same time, Chavez has been escalating his rhetoric against Columbia and massing forces on their shared border. Most recently, Chavez has claimed that his right-wing opponents, who undertook an unsuccessful coup with tacit US support a couple of years ago, are hiding in Columbia's border region plotting to assassinate him. This, taken with usual border tensions and Chavez's need to distract his people from his criminal mismanagement of the country, would seem to indicate that a war between Venezuela and Columbia could be a very real possibility. Look for Venezuelan forces to make probing border incursions in the coming weeks under the alleged intent of "rooting out" these supposed right-wing Hugo haters that are supposedly plotting to remove him. The potential headache for the next administration would be intense. Likely the US, which already has forces in Columbia and neighboring Bolivia, would become involved. Then Brazil would have a real dilemma. Brazilian president Lulu de Silva is himself a left winger and friend of Chavez and would be under tremendous pressure to aid Venezuela. Add the Castro factor and this could be a huge conflagration in a very short time span.


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