With North Korea playing dangerous games in America’s back yard it is time that we begin to deal with an emerging rogue regime. In what looks suspiciously like an extension of the Axis of Evil into the Western Hemisphere, confirmed reports note that Venezuela dictator wannabe Hugo Chavez is cozying up to North Korean representatives. Chavez, long time admirer of Fidel Castro is rapidly dragging his country into the throes of a modern Marxist dictatorship. Even more the tragedy in that Venezuela had long been a budding democracy in South America. Chavez, elected in a contentious time, deliberately dismantled democratic institutions, cemented his authority, and then began systematically to eliminate the opposition.
Earlier this year massive street demonstrations forced a recall election. People were out in force demanding an end to Chavez’s encroaching tyranny and a return to free, honest, and open government. In what can only be acutely embarrassing for most Americans who love freedom, former President and self-appointed scold Jimmy Carter went to Venezuela to ‘monitor’ the recall election. Allowing himself to be set up by the Chavez camp so that he only interviewed the dictator’s supporters, Carter then astounding gave his stamp of approval to what most observers proclaimed to be a blatantly rigged election. The opposition party had been preparing to go back out on the streets to demand that Chavez step down and a free presidential election be held.
There is a good chance that American and Organization of American States support for such a move might have changed Venezuela back into a legitimate democracy. But the opposition – stunned by Carter’s irrational pronouncement - fell into disarray. It was a tragedy for the people of Venezuela but also for America and other countries in the hemisphere. With Carter’s imprimatur in his back pocket, Chavez then cracked down even harder on the democratic opposition, plunging Venezuela deeper into authoritarian rule.
Chavez has delusions of grandeur that to go hand in glove with dictatorship. He envisions himself as ruler of a ‘super-state’ that traverses Latin America from Atlantic to Pacific. A quick glance at the map shows that in order for that trick to happen it will mean annexation of some or all of Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. No man of little ambitions is Chavez. His Cuban pal and mentor Fidel Castro is, of course, thrilled. America and our allies now have to deal with another communist megalomaniac in the Western Hemisphere. Castro with his proclivity for basing Soviet missiles, gross human rights violations, and international export of revolution has been bad enough. At least all Castro holds over us economically is sugar. Chavez, on the other hand, is sitting on some of the largest producing petroleum wells in the world. And we in America are deeply tied to Venezuelan oil.
Now that Chavez feels confident and secure in his position he has embarked on the mission that tin-pot dictators usually do: building up his military capability to threaten his neighbors. And of course he has sufficient petrodollars to allow him to do exactly what he intends. The Russians are first in the queue. Although no longer strict communists Russia seems unable to resist the temptation to support these aberrant enemies of America. They plan to sell Chavez a squadron of highly advanced MiG-29 fighter aircraft. Along with this are an expected shipment of 100,000 Russian manufactured AK-47 assault rifles and assorted weapons such as light machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. The usual weapons of choice for terrorist movements around the globe.
The reasons for these acquisitions are no mystery: Chavez intends to stir up big trouble. He is actively assisting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the narco-terrorists and anti-government guerrillas who make their living in the cocaine business. FARC leaders are eager to ally with someone like Chavez. They know the Venezuelan dictator will support them in overthrowing the legitimately elected but beleaguered Colombian government. Beyond these immediate regional ambitions there can be no doubt that Chavez is itching for a chance to take on the United States. Not directly – at least not at first – but in an alliance that will see him use oil, terror threats, and narcotics subversion to weaken America’s regional influence.
Even more troubling than Russian intervention, recent reports indicate that a North Korean military sales delegation has visited Caracas with the intention of selling Chavez intermediate range ballistic missiles. With an economy solidly in the tank, the North Koreans have few items of interest in the export market. The Kim Jong Il regime has focused on counterfeit US $100 bills, manufacture and sale of illegal narcotics (heroin and crystal meth), slave labor, trafficking in human beings, research into nuclear and chemical weapons, and manufacture and sale of missiles. North Korea is so cash poor that Kim would agree to strap his grandmother to one of the rockets and ship her over if that meant more spending money in his ‘extra big in the butt’ jeans.
With oil prices spiking Chavez has the petrodollars to purchase just about anything he wants from North Korea and would likely be interested in acting as a broker for wholesale heroin to distribute into North American markets. He can take advantage of the distribution lines that his friends in FARC have established to implement such a strategy. Chavez figures that fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere has so preoccupied and distracted American policymakers that he will be able to pull this deal off under the radar. But presence of a new dictatorial regime armed with high performance aircraft and missiles capable of threatening almost every major city in the hemisphere is completely unacceptable. As petty tyrants are wont to do, Chavez has ‘misunderestimated’ America and President Bush. The US and our hemispheric allies have too much at stake to permit this cancer to grow unchecked. Watch for a new front to open in the war on terror.