Chavez on the warpath

Venezuela seems to be girding for battle with Colombia

by Luiza Ch. Savage

Even as Barack Obama continues to consider deploying more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, another conflict involving U.S. soldiers has been intensifying in Washington’s own backyard. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has recently exceeded his traditional incendiary anti-American rhetoric with talk of war with neighbouring Colombia, a long-time U.S. ally which since 2000 has hosted U.S. troops as part of an anti-drug effort. Chávez has gone so far as to mass 15,000 soldiers on his border with Colombia, where in recent weeks there has been a spate of slayings related to tensions between Venezuelan and Colombian paramilitary groups. On Nov. 8, he ordered his military to prepare for possible armed conflict. “The best way to avoid war is preparing for it,” Chávez told officers on a weekly TV and radio program. Of the U.S., Chávez said, “The empire is more threatening than ever,” and warned Obama to not “make a mistake” in ordering an attack on Venezuela.

The object of Chávez’s fury is an agreement signed on Oct. 30 between the conservative government in Bogotá and Washington that will increase access to seven Colombian military bases for U.S. troops, aircraft and warships assisting Colombia with its struggle against drug traffickers. The 10-year agreement does nothing to change a U.S. law that limits U.S. military personnel and contractors in Colombia to 1,400. While Álvaro Uribe’s government said the agreement limits American activity to Colombian territory, it has made neighbours nervous about American intentions, with Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador expressing concern. Chávez has gone further, condemning the deal as a step toward launching a military offensive against Venezuela, and claiming that the bases would be used for espionage purposes against his regime.

It has been a rapid turnaround by Chávez regarding the new U.S. administration. In April, at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, Obama and Chávez met for the first time and exchanged handshakes and pats on the back. Chávez gave him a book about American interference in Latin America, while Obama pledged a new era of respect. But those positive atmospherics have dissolved. Chávez is now calling on Obama to give up his Nobel Peace Prize. “The United States government is a champion of cynicism, and Obama should give up his prize in the name of dignity, decorum and respect,” said Chávez. Of Obama’s promise of “change,” he declared, “What changes? The coup in Honduras, the bases in Colombia, the U.S. Navy presence in the Caribbean? This is a threat to peace in Latin America.”

It’s hard to tell how seriously to take Chávez’s latest bluster. After all, this is the man who called George W. Bush “the devil.” Most observers agree that he is trying to rally his country against a foreign enemy in order to distract his people from major problems at home. In addition to high crime and unemployment, Venezuelans are suffering from mounting shortages of electricity and water rationing, despite the country’s oil, gas and coal wealth. Chávez has taken to touting conservation. In October, he urged citizens to limit their showers to three minutes. “I’ve counted and I don’t end up stinking,” he said. “I guarantee it.” Says Michael Shifter, vice-president of Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank in Washington: “He is aware that things are not going well and he is not able to govern the country effectively, and that is reflected in poll numbers of declining support. This is a convenient way to divert attention and try to rally the country behind a national cause.”

However, the sabre-rattling is coming in the midst of a massive arms buildup. Chávez said in September that his government has received a $2.2-billion line of credit from Moscow to buy 92 Russian-made T-72 tanks as well as a long-range Russian anti-aircraft missile system. Chávez said the acquisitions were in response to the U.S. threat, but the U.S. State Department said the buildup outpaced all other Latin American countries, and threatened regional stability by potentially setting off an arms race in the region. Chávez has also been making Washington nervous by developing a friendly relationship with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Earlier this month, the Chávez government announced it is co-operating with Russia to develop a nuclear energy program, and that it is receiving help from Tehran to locate uranium reserves within its borders.

Meanwhile, the situation on the Colombian border, a shadowy zone where drug smugglers and anti-Bogotá Marxist FARC rebels are active, has already been violent. Two Venezuelan national guard soldiers were shot near the border in early November (authorities blamed right-wing Colombian militias). And 11 people, mostly Colombians, had been killed in October; they were believed to be members of paramilitary groups, possibly killed by leftist rebels. Venezuela’s vice-president, Ramon Carrizalez, said the killings were part of a “destabilization plan linked to the base agreement with the U.S.”

Some in Washington warn that Chávez’s posturing should not be dismissed precisely because of the volatile situation at the border. “This is something that should be taken very seriously,” says Roger Noriega, the former assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States. “With elements of two countries on a border, the sort of irregular forces that operate across that border—be that the FARC or paramilitaries—could draw these countries into a confrontation that neither one needs.”

The U.S-Colombian agreement, negotiated under the Bush administration and completed under Obama, allows the use of the bases for counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency activities in Colombia. Shifter says that the deal was instigated by Bogotá. “The Colombians are feeling nervous and they really pushed for it. The U.S. went along,” he says. The agreement does not oblige Washington to provide any military support to Colombia should Venezuela move against it, says Shifter—though Colombians like to think it will, especially given evidence that Chávez is giving sanctuary to the FARC, and allowing them to regroup on Venezuelan territory. (Computer files and emails captured in a raid on FARC rebels in Ecuador last year provided evidence of military and intelligence officials in the Chávez government helping the insurgents.)

“The agreement was sold that way, and I think a lot of Colombians believed that there would be a greater chance that the U.S. would respond,” says Shifter. “That it would be like NATO. The U.S. might or might not, but there is nothing in the agreement that obliges them to.” Nonetheless, he predicts that with or without the agreement, “I think if it was clearly an aggressive act by Chávez, the U.S. would come to Colombia’s aid. It wouldn’t stand by. The U.S. would be forceful in trying to stop the hostilities.”

Noriega, the former Bush administration official, doubts whether Obama would have the “stomach” for a military entanglement in Latin America. But the prospect of one is enough to make countries already apprehensive about the U.S.-Colombian deal even more nervous. Indeed, a major problem with the agreement seems to be the way it was rolled out—with insufficient explanation and assurances to neighbouring nations such as Brazil to counter concerns and opposition. “There wasn’t any sinister motive here, but it was badly managed by both the U.S. and Colombia,” says Shifter.

The Obama administration has so far reacted to Chávez’s bluster by calling for international mediation to help Venezuela and Colombia resolve their border troubles. “We are very much aware of recent tensions along the Venezuela and Colombia border,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. “I certainly don’t think this is about the United States, but we certainly would encourage dialogue between Venezuela and Colombia and a peaceful resolution of the situation along their border.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to make a trip to the region soon, with a particular interest in shoring up relations with Brazil.

So far, Chávez has rejected the idea of dialogue. This week he called his Colombian counterpart Uribe a “mobster” and said there was no possibility of negotiations with the “treasonous” government in Bogotá. He added, “He will be considered by history to be a disgraceful leader who turned his homeland over to the Yankees.”

Noriega says there should be more international pressure on Chávez, and more support from U.S. allies for America’s role in Colombia’s war on narco-trafficking. “I think, frankly, the U.S. should step forward and—with its neighbours, not the least of which would be Canada—say everybody needs to recognize the U.S. has a tangible relationship with Colombia and interests there,” he says. Noriega adds that the Obama administration should do more to “call attention to the threat that Chávez represents, and put some of our neighbours on the spot to take a position on these things before it’s too late and punches start flying.”




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Chavez on the warpath

  1. Colombia would not sustain a war with Venezuela on its own – it would need US help. For the last 30 years that's been a non-issue, but now Chavez senses weakness in the US leadership.

    Therefore he's going to keep pushing until someone pushes back. My guess is that Obama will not push back with anything more than rhetoric (and soft rhetoric, at that) until it's too late to avoid a war.

    • I have to disagree here. President Obama has, thankfully, shown more backbone than I was expecting from him. I voted for McCain primarily because I was afraid that Obama would turn out to be just another head-in-the-sand uber-liberal wuss. But that hasn't been the case.

      Granted, he threw the left a bone by closing Gitmo (BFD as far as I'm concerned. Let 'em all rot in a US maximum security prison. What's the difference?) But we now have more Predator strikes being conducted against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban across the border in Pakistan than when Bush 43 was president. Our withdrawl from Iraq, far from being the full-scale bug-out that I had been fearing, is being done in a slow, methodical way that will not jeopardize the hard-won gains there. Now there is news leaking out of the Pentagon that Obama will be going "all in" there and sending an extra 34,000 troops, which is pretty close to the upper limit of 40,000 that McChrystal had asked for. It's certainly a lot more than the token 10,000 that I was afraid he might send, which would accomplish nothing.

      So I wouldn't be so quick to assume that Obama would respond with only rhetoric if Chavez gets too beligerent and needs a smackdown. But I think this is simply a case of Chavez flapping his gums again to divert his public's attention from the way that he's running Venezuela into the ground.

      • I hope you're right.

        Hope for the best; prep for the worst.

        • peace through superior firepower .. maybe because america is tied up in the middle east if something happens down there they may just lend some drone bombers … if bush were in power he would certainly would

    • I think you vastly overestimate the Venezuelan military while ignoring the quite capable Colombian army which actually has war fighting experience. Chavez is bluffing in order to distract his citizens from the plight of their country (which he's been causing).

      No one welcomes war, but should Chavez be foolish enough to declare war, Colombia would deal him a much deserved blow to his ego.

      • lived in Venezuela for a couple of years, their army is the biggest rag tag bunch of losers I have ever seen, Columbia would destroy them!! weapons or not!

  2. maybe bo will support his socialist buddy hugo. if Bush was in power hugo would keep his mouth shut

    • Maybe we can just pack bambam in a fedex box and over night him to Venezuala. He IS an erxpert in everything he does, ………….isnt he?. , oh hell, I'd go for giving them some money just to take him I hope we can find someone before the 2012 election, like real soon. Him, biden, pelosi, reid, frank, dodd, the list goes on if we can get lucky we can ship them all there

  3. Chavez has been girding for this war for many years.

  4. Chavez is just frothing at the mouth, as usual.
    The Venezuelan people will NEVER go to war with Colombia.

    • Isn't that a bit of a head in the sand mentality? I'm not saying we rush troops down to Columbia, but to act as if a dictator wouldn't start a war of aggression with a neighbor is a bit naive.

      We are not talking about Cuba starting a war with the U.S. Who is to say Chavez misjudges the level of support internally and externally he has and decides to go to war?

      After 9/11, they called it a failure of imagination to see possibilities.

    • No, but they keep voting for Chavez, which, if Chavez wants war with Colombia, is kind of the same thing isn't it? I accepted in the last two elections that my vote for the Conservatives meant an extended stay in Afghanistan. The Venazuelans are capable of reaching the same conclusions, no?

  5. Don't forget that the Colombian military has been involved in a shooting war for many years against the FARC and the drug runners and to a lesser extent the paramilitaries. They have a lot of experience whereas the Venezuelan military under Chavez are just used to dominate an unarmed civilian population. I think that the Colombian military would acquit themselves quite well if Chavez was ignorant enough to actually start shooting.

    • "Venezuelan military under Chavez are just used to dominate an unarmed civilian population", oh!! yes of course building schools and bridges for the communities, opening dozens of universities and training the population on cartography and first aids, yeah……. very dominated.

      • You missed his point. Building schools and bridges, etc. is not the same as fighting and being battle tested. When the US bombed Libya in the 80's, they didn't have enough training or experience to use the Russian made weapons effectively.

        P.S. Maybe Chavez should be spending less on military and more on infrastructure like water and electricity.

    • Absolutely correct! The Colombian armed forces are much more professional and loyal.Chavez is all talk.

  6. The region needs a system of guarantees, that secure no Bush's crazy torturers do as they please in Palanquero, Colombia, as they have done in Abu Ghraib.

    • …so basically it's not that bad in Palanquero

      Thanks for clarifying

  7. Again the crimes of the Empire seem to pale in comparison to the evil Chavez, an unstable leader in some respects, but also a man that has arguably been driven to instability by a history of ferocious interventions in Latin America by North America.
    I think that the picture is clear: in order to secure strategic interests, mineral and other resources around the world, the US has, and continues to rely on its firepower and threats (that's the reason that the marines were created). No wonder that there are such isolated leaders, that want to spend up "big" on arms-( the US spends at least 7 hundred billion per year on arms 0r around 48% of world sales).
    On the other hand, I understand that US citizens want to feel safe and that they rely on aggressive leaders, but I think it is important to realise that we ALL want to be safe and free. A better strategy for the US would be to congratulate Chavez on his progressive social strategy, not to bully and scare him into violence. It also comes down to a question "what do we want in this world?" If the answer is peace, then we should pursue peace, and talk to friends and enemies alike with cautious respect and compassion. This is what will deliver long term peace.

    why do we c

    • Congratulate him on his progressive social strategy? What would that be bankrupting his nation when they have a great natural resource right (oil) in their hip pocket. I guess socialist is not quite as politically correct as "progressive"?

    • Hola, Tim.
      Who are you? Hugo Chavez's Minister of Propaganda? or just an old blogger in a Havana cellar?
      If you happen to run into El Loco in the near future, please inform him: 1) his days are numbered; 2) get some religion
      3) Feliz Navidad y Adios.

    • wow, lived in Venezuela for a couple of years, didn't see much of a progressive social strategy, unless blacklisting and encarerating political aponents, shutting down unfriendly media, driving out anybody with an education, nationalizing firms and then running them into the ground, and destroying the economy is a progressive social strategy! I wonder why people like you who have no idea what the hell they are talking about decide to blabber on in these forums. Bush was horrible, Obama is worse! Ron Paul 2012

  8. With friends like Mr Obama, we Colombians do not need more enemies. Most north americans will recognize this soon and, unfortunately, too late for us, as usual..

    • Seems that you need a godfather to talk with your neighbours. Chavez is avoiding this situations ffrom far long ago, and I sincerilly hope he can manage to resolve it into the UNASUR frame.

    • Seems that you need a godfather to talk with your neighbours.

  9. Suppose Chavez does invade Colombia, and loses everything.

  10. yeah, but my point is that the majority of Venezuelans where in a bad position before chavez came along, and for a long time, was actively assisted by the US to repress its own people for the sake of oil.
    So, in this sense, I don't see how the US can take any kind of moral position, and yes its true that Chavez puts a lot of money into social projects.

    • You don't think that the majority of the Venezuelans are in a "bad position" NOW under the thumb of Chavez in his "workers' paradise"? He's closed virtually every opposition newspaper, television and radio station and is in the process of building a total police state that the decent Venezuelan people will have to suffer for years and years. Wake up, man!

    • I agree with you Tim. Nothing we hear from the MSM about Chavez is remotely objective. Is he perfect? Of course not, but he has been democratically elected several times, so he's obviously doing something right. If there is a war between Colombia and Venezuela, you can be sure that we will be told it is all Chavez's fault. The US has been building up troops in Colombia to "fight the war on drugs"? Please.

  11. This is another thug held in high esteem by Canadian lefties. Why? because he's anti-American and being anti-American and anti-Israel is a main pillar of the lefty psyche.

    Canadian lefties also adore Fidel for similar reasons-he is anti-American as well as his good friend, the Messiah Trudeau.

    This in art explains why Canadian lefties vacation in Cuba and condone Fidel's brutal treatment of political prisoners.

  12. If Torture is Offensive to Canadians, then Why Do Canadians Condone Torture in Cuba?

    Testimony by Armando Valladares (July 30, 2000)

    I spent twenty-two years in prison for political reasons…I do not care about their political ideology, and I offer to you my embrace of solidarity, from tortured to tortured. I had many friends in prison. One of them, Roberto López Chávez, was just a kid. He went on a hunger strike to protest the abuses. The guards denied him water, Roberto lay on the floor of his punishment cell, agonizing, deliriously asking for water. water… The soldiers came in and asked him: "Do you want water?"… The they took out their members and urinated in his mouth, on his face… He died the following day. We were cellmates; when he died I felt something wither inside me.

    I recall when they kept me in a punishment cell, naked, with several fractures on one leg which never received medical care; today, those bones remain jammed up together and displaced. One of the regular drills among the guards was to stand on the steel mesh ceiling and throw at my face buckets full of urine and excrement.

    • don't kid yourself and believe that they care about torture, they care about Americans torturing people, if it is in the name of "social progress", such as stalin, Mao, Fidel, they are ok with it, but heaven forbid we do it! us capitalist imperialists

  13. Teaching cartography? This is serving the population with the oil revenues? Political suppression, gangster politics, and anti-free market policies have a predictable result.

  14. What is this nitwit going to do with 90 T-72s? Aren't Columbia and Venezuela mostly jungle? The US destroyed hundreds of T-72s in Iraq. I suppose that Surface to Air Missiles make more sense but they can't be used against stealth aircraft and the US guided munitions can take them out from tens of miles away.

    This guy is spending lots of money on weapons that will be useless against the US. Why?

    • I thought the same thing when I read that line. T-72s? It is obvious the Russians consider the Venzuelans and Chavez untrustworthy, or else they would be selling more up-to-date equipment. My platoon destroyed two iraqi T-72s on the way up to Baghdad from Karbala in March 2003. Two unarmored humvees with TOW anti-tank systems. One shot each, they never even saw us coming. They may as well buy T-55s or T-62s and save some hard currency they plainly don't have.

  15. I don't worry about year 2009. I worry about year 2020, when Chavez will have Nuclear Weapons. Then he can threaten Colombia or any other country in the area with Atomic or Hydrogen Bombs.

    He can even threaten the Panama Canal with Nuclear Weapons, or New York or Washington with Nuclear Terrorism, like detonating a bomb inside a suitcase in a Hotel or Taxi.

    The Future of Foreign Policies :

    Prophesizing.com

    Vicente Duque

    Vicente

  16. Columbia can take care of itself, but Chavez is the aggressor here and the U.S. should make it clear that it will be firmly on the side of a Democratic Columbia, not the Dictatorship of President for Life Chavez, if Chavez starts hostilities. And President for Life Chavez should stop meddling in the internal affairs and bilateral relationship between Columiba and the U.S. Its none of his damn business. If he starts a war it should be made clear to him his clown career will be over!!!! Of course, if Obama lets Iran give him a few nukes next year, which looks likely, ending his clown career may be very expensive indeed!!!!

  17. Chavez will be long dead and buried by 2015.

    • Deo gratias!

  18. Can we just go back to the good old days and have the CIA wack this ahole. Oh yeah a Navy Seal can't even smack a terrorst murdere in the mouth now. We are doomed. Well you all are I will fight for my freedom.

  19. At the moment gasoline can have up tp 10% ethanol. If this figure is raised to 15%, America wouln't been a drop of oil from old Hugo. Now that would make for intersting politics.

  20. why don't we all drop the name calling and agree that most large governments oppress their own people and in times of war, the people of other countries. This is about rich people exploiting poor, no matter where we come from.
    and also, people on this list are writing in English, which means that many of them are from countries like Canada, the US, Australia and the UK. So, my next point is- it is our countries that are the most agressive and have the most weapons. if we want to create a secure world, we need to focus on positive ways to work together, especially at a time of water and resource scarcity and nuclear proliferation. I for one want to bring my children up in a relaxed and safe world and I don't want my government attacking others and creating more instability and conflict.

  21. Tim,

    In Cuba there are no rich people -everyone is poor. A report from a world health observe said, apart from the universality of health care, living conditions in Cuba are brutal.

    There is no perfect system and our system is full of warts.

    The proof of the pudding is in migratory patterns. Cuba has lost 15% of it's population via illegally leaving the country. By the same token not a single Canadian has asked to become a Cuban citizen so they can work in one of Fidel's industries.

    The Berlin Wall was built to keep east Germans in and, not to keep west German's out-the opposite of this is occurring with the wall being built in Israel, but don't tell this to the CBC.

  22. Colombia would clean Venezuela's clock. Colombia's military has actually see action, the Chavista's have not, unless you count combating college student protesters and invading TV stations.

    Chavez has wrecked his country, and he needs to divert the public's attention.

  23. Cuba is also in poverty because of US sanctions.
    My ideas of social change are not only based at looking at what has happened in the past, I don't believe in simply looking at past human behaviours for solutions to current problems.

    I do however see that every day that we are aggressive with one and other and isolate people or leaders- even if they do deserve it, we move further from peace and justice.
    also, in terms of our own leadership, Coalition countries are the worst in terms of human rights abuses, either personally, as in Iraq, or in supporting other oppressive countries- Saddam Hussein was a perfect example, and so was the Suharto regime in Indonesia. There are countless repressive regimes that we support. The reason for the interest in Venezuela/Columbia- that's where oil, cocaine and cheap labour and resources come from. Wake up people, the US does not have a clean conscience, or peaceful vision for the world, and acts entirley in the interests of itself and allies. in this way they are operating under the same principles as your average 3rd world dictator, they just have much better PR, spin doctors and money to make cover their asses.

    • The U.S.A definately does not have a clean record, but saying that Cuba is poor because of U.S. sanctions is plain STUPID, they trade with many countries!! MANY! THey are poor because they are communist and do not PRODUCE! Communism does not work, we should end the embargo with cuba but it will not help much unless they stop thier rediculous communist mentality and start capitalist aproaches totheir market economy. China is now CAPITALIST and look how well they are doing, learn some fundamental economics and people will take you seriously!

      • I think its a little silly to use the old communist/ capitalist debate. and again, I'm not really refering to Cuba, Fidel or Chavez. My point is that states and their people need support, they are our brothers and sisters, not some alien race. If we rely on name calling and isolation, we create tensions, and in the context of geopolitical relations, this is dangerous and counter productive.

        • If you are not referring to Cuba, Fidel, or Chavez, but you defend their dysfunctional policies but condemn us for being less than perfect, than just what are you getting at? To say Cuba is poverty stricken because of US sanctions is to ignore reality. They trade with many other nations (including virtually all of our allies) so those "sanctions" don't really mean anything. Cuba is poor because of failed communist economics. Whether you think it is silly or not to state so, Cuba actually does still have communist policies that don't work.

          • It's true that Cuba has communist policies that don't work, and we have capitalist policies that don't work too. I'm trying to say that we, as the most powerful and influential countries need to show leadership and create better relationships with the people and countries that we are currently isolating. I am personally tired of aggression being the flavour of the day in international politics. History has many dark moments, and they are moments that I don't think any of us wish to see repeated.

  24. nicely put

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