April 5, 2005
By Peter Brookes
'One darned thing after another': That's
how former Secretary of State Dean Acheson once defined foreign
policy. The latest "darned thing" for the United States is
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
For no apparent reason, the leftist strongman is arming Venezuela
to the teeth. He's also supporting local narcoterrorists and other
Chavez idolizes Cuba's Fidel Castro, is chummy with Libya's Moammar
Khadafy and was a Saddam Hussein pal. He's made nasty remarks about
President Bush and "suggestive" public comments about Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice.
According to Gerver Torres, a former Venezuelan government
minister, Chavez's "main motivation now is to do everything he
possibly can to negatively affect the United States, Bush in
particular . . . trying to bring together all the enemies of the
It's tempting to write off Chavez simply as Latin America's latest
tin-pot dictator, but that would be a mistake. Venezuela's own
"Fidelito" has the potential to cause real trouble for the United
States - right in our own backyard.
Recognizing our economy's Achilles' heel, Chavez has threatened to
cut off oil exports to the United States. Venezuela is our
fourth-largest source of oil, providing 15 percent of U.S. oil
needs (1.5 million barrels a day). This threat can't be
Curtailing exports would push already high American gas prices
through the roof. Cognizant of this fact, Chavez recently
proclaimed: "We have invaded the United States but with our
Sure, it would be painful for Venezuela to cut off the 60
percent of its oil exports bound for the American market. But
Venezuela is already looking to diversify its oil clientele beyond
Last December, Caracas struck a huge deal with Beijing for oil
and gas sales and investment in Venezuela's energy sector.
Venezuela is stirring the security pot, too, sowing fear among
its neighbors. From Russia, Chavez is buying 50 advanced MiG-29
fighters, 40 helicopter gunships and 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles.
He's also bought arms from Spain and Brazil.
A cashiered former army colonel, Chavez also plans to increase
the size of the army reserve as "an honorable answer to President
Bush's intention of being the master of the world."
Gen. Bantz Craddock, commander in chief of the U.S. Southern
Command, finds Venezuela's weapon extravaganza worrisome because
Chavez's motives are unclear. "We're wondering just what the intent
here is," the general told the Senate in recent testimony.
One of Washington's main concerns is the possibility of a
conventional war between Venezuela and its neighbor Colombia, the
U.S.'s main regional ally. At a minimum, Venezuela's oil-induced
buying binge could set off a regional arms race.
There's also the possibility that some of el presidente's new
"toys," especially the AK-47s and ammunition, could fall into the
hands of Colombian FARC narcoterrorists.
The FARC is seeking to overthrow the government of Colombian
President Alvaro Uribe. Bogota received some $3 billion in U.S.
assistance over the last several years to support its fight against
narcotraffickers and leftist rebel groups.
Chavez is rumored to be supporting the FARC, letting it use the
Colombian-Venezuelan border area to recuperate and resupply.
Elsewhere, Chavez is mentoring Bolivian revolutionary Evo
Morales, whose comrades recently tried to force President Carlos
Mesa's resignation in an effort to take control of the National
In Peru, it's been alleged that Chavez bankrolled the rogue army
officer who tried to incite December's rebellion against President
Alejandro Toledo. Chavez denies all of this, of course.
Many Americans will find it hard to take Chavez seriously, but
his capacity for regional troublemaking shouldn't be discounted,
especially as oil prices rocket.
Fortunately, the Bush administration recognizes this and is
beginning to craft a new policy to deal with Chavez. The best
approach will include working with other regional leaders to
contain and isolate him, while not inflaming the dictator's popular
support at home.
Chavez recently announced his intent to export his "Bolivarian
revolution" (read: Cuban revolution). Considering his disastrous
socialist economic and repressive political record at home, we'd
better stop him before he gets started.
Peter Brookes is
a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
First appeared in the New York Post
'One darned thing after another': That's how former Secretary of State Dean Acheson once defined foreign policy.
Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
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