Thursday, March 6, 2008

Can You Say “Destabilize?”

One. Just one. It only takes a single whack-a-doo head-of-state to destabilize an entire region.

Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly come to mind when whack-a-doo heads-of-state are mentioned. Each has recently done his level best through deeds and words to keep his neighborhood in a state of unease and the threat of war. The Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumb of the Asia, both have wormed their way into our hearts with their preferred methods of accomplishing this, involving the insane rhetoric and threat of nuclear weapons, but my current favorite can be found in South America.

Hugo Chavez, el president of Venezuela, has had a political career so marred by inflammatory rhetoric, abuse of power, and unsavory connections that there really isn't an adjective comprehensive enough to accurately describe it. After failing to overthrow by force the (somewhat) democratically elected government of Venezuela in the early 90's, Chavez was later successfully elected to the office of president. Since taking office, Chavez has cultivated "Bolivarian Revolution" in his own country using gangs of armed thugs, rewritten the constitution so that the office of president is neither checked nor balanced, and used his influence (and his country's oil) to assist leftist regimes to acquire and maintain power in Latin America. An avowed socialist, he has cultivated ties to regional socialist ideologues Fidel Castro and FARC, the Colombian rebels/terrorists who fund much of their operations through the illegal drug trade.

Only recently have the Venezuelan people been able to reign in his acquisition of power, when they defeated his latest constitutional changes, which would have allowed him to legally maintain power for an indefinite term. This setback, however, has not slowed down the anti-US and anti-Columbian rhetoric and posturing that have become two of Chavez's many colorful trademarks.* Working hard to ignore his rebuke by the Venezuelan voters, Chavez is moving full speed ahead with his antagonistic foreign policy.

On March 1st, Colombia destroyed a FARC base several kilometers inside the Ecuadoran border, killing FARC's #2 man, Raul Reyes, but it did so without the prior knowledge or consent of the Ecuadoran government. Partisans pro- and anti-whatever can debate the legality of Colombia's actions or of Ecuador's leftist government providing safe harbor for FARC terrorists. Neither side is blameless, but after a period of intense diplomatic disgruntlement they would have gotten over it without a call to arms.

Hugo "Whack-A-Doo" Chavez, however, has issued a call to arms and is working to make it much harder to get over. Currently, Venezuelan troops are massing at the Colombian border.

Chavez has long admitted to having ties with FARC. He claims to have used these ties to negotiate with FARC to secure the release of several of the estimated 700 hostages taken in pursuit of their terrorist activity. There has long been speculation that he has provided funding and material assistance to FARC in order to help them launch their own "Bolivarian Revolution" in Colombia. Insiders have even detailed "suspicious deals" by PDVSA, Venezuela's government-run oil company, which may have been used to launder money for FARC, a major drug trafficker. Ignoring the estimated 700 hostages, Chavez has campaigned hard to have FARC removed from the list of terrorist organizations.

With the Colombian incursion into Ecuador, Chavez has taken his already vitriolic anti-Columbian rhetoric and (BAM!) "kicked it up a notch." With troops massed at Colombia's borders and sabers rattling, Chavez and his ideological ally Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa are making it much easier for a war to get started. Several "regional experts" have stated that a shooting war in which Ecuador and Venezuela join forces with FARC against Colombia's government is unlikely--and I agree--but what if he reaches the conclusion that the US military is stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan to help Colombia. Could he decide to see if he can get away with overthrowing the Colombian government?**

Meanwhile, the Colombian government has produced for the world press a number of documents purported to have been taken form Raul Reyes' laptop. These documents purport to show Chavez's financial support of FARC and other ties to the group. Venezuela has denounced the documents as fake, but let's reserve judgment until they can be thoroughly analyzed. If true, however, they are fairly damning of Chavez.

*Top 5 Other Colorful Chavez trademarks: #5)Threatening to cut off oil to the US; #4) Nepotism; #3) Nationalizing foreign industries; #2) Verbally bitch-slapping Colombian president Alvaro Uribe; and #1) Shouting "Viva Fidel" at the moment of climax.

**Remember he is a former army colonel and he has already attempted to overthrow one government.