President George Bush’s efforts to support democratic movements everywhere in the world – but most especially in former soviet block nations like Ukraine – may come back to bite him in Latin America.
Under the increasingly anti-democratic regime of Vladimir Putin, Russia appears to be sinking back into the ice age of Breshnev styled communism. Putin seems to be especially perturbed that Bush backed pro-Western Victor Yushchenko as president in the former soviet colony. Chavez was warmly received by Putin in Moscow just before Ukraine asserted its independence of its former overlord and gave the boot to Moscow’s preferred candidate.
When the Bush administration recently lodged a formal protest with Russia for having supplied the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez with some 100,000 AK-47 rifles, the protest likely fell on deaf ears.
The rifles – to be used, reliable analysts suppose, to support left wing movements in Latin America, and also to arm communist street gangs charged with eliminating political opposition to the Chavez regime – the Venezuelan megalomaniac’s intimate relations with Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro and the possible nationalization of the country’s oil industry, should pique the interest of U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, thought to be an expert on Latin American affairs.
Venezuela supplies about one fourth of the oil consumed in the United States. ''We can't afford to offend the guy,'' said Myles Frechette, a former U.S. ambassador to Colombia. ``If he sells his oil elsewhere, then we have to buy more from the Middle East, which is not necessarily something anyone wants to do.''
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, back from Europe where she had wowed French and German leaders, mentioned Venezuela during her Jan 18 Senate confirmation hearing.
“We have a long and good history with Venezuela,” Rice said, “long ties. I think it’s extremely unfortunate that the Chavez government has not been constructive. And we do have to be vigilant and to demonstrate that we know the difficulties that that government is causing for its neighbors, its close association with Fidel Castro in Cuba.”
On his weekly television show "Alo Presidente," Chavez responded to Rice’s rather innocuous statement by speculating at length about having intercourse with her in terms so sexually freighted and vile that U.S. newspapers refused to print his remarks.
But Rice’s comments on Venezuela were dramatically understated.
Since Dodd in June of 2004 praised the recall referendum that hoisted Chavez into the presidency as "a triumph for the democratic process in Venezuela,” both Chavez and his regime have shown signs of morphing into a Cuban styled totalitarian state.
Commenting on the Russian supplied weapons, one senior U.S. official said, “It’s a Cuban styled dictatorship. He’s arming loyalists and setting them loose to intimidate people at the city block level.” Venezuelan ambassador to the United States Bernardo Alverez claims that the new militias formed by Chavez will be under the control of the military.
Citing intelligence reports, U.S. officials assert that Chavez’s government secretly supplied money last year to aid mayoral candidates of the Sandinistas, still led by former Marxist president Daniel Ortega.
During a sting operation last January, Nicaraguan police and U.S. officials uncovered a criminal network that planned to sell SA-7 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles on the black market to Columbian terrorists. According to published reports, factions in the military sympathetic to the Sandinista party seem inclined to sell the missiles to the terrorists.
Officials fear that the missiles could be smuggled to Mexico and, finding their way through porous borders, be used by terrorists to bring down commercial aircraft in the United States.
Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos has pledged to eliminate Nicaragua’s missile supplies, but the presidential office has been weaken by the opposition, and some analysts think that the Sandinistas may have an opportunity to regain power democratically in the next elections. That is exactly what has happened in Venezuela.
It has been nearly a year since Dodd noted during a hearing before the congressional committee over which he presides that “the Bush administration's tacit support for the anti-democratic coup in April of 2002 cast a dark shadow over our ability to act as honest brokers in helping to resolve the political crisis in Venezuela.” Since winning a re-call election, Chavez has given clear indications that he wishes to refashion his government on the Cuban model.
Dodd, whose interventions in Latin America have in the past been purely reactionary, may now have an opportunity to be pro-active, mount a podium anywhere in the United States, and tell the rest of us precisely how the Bush Administration may thwart Chavez’ larval dictatorship while acting as an honest broker in resolving a continuing crisis in Venezuela that has not been settled through the democratic process.