While the situations in Iran and North Korea steal headlines, we must not forget that we still face in this Hemisphere the continuing progress of Hugo Chavez’s self-styled Bolivarian revolution. Chavez’s Venezuela is moving forward in forging economic and strategic partners with America’s strategic adversaries. The explicit goal of this new alliance is building an economic powerhouse that can recreate the multipolar world of the Cold War days. Taken as a whole, the following provides an overview of Chavez’s holistic aims:
- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, came together on February 14 to green light a series of agreements to develop joint projects in areas such as energy, petrochemicals, gas and mining, double taxation, agriculture, agrarian reform, fishing, science-and-technology, and communications. Furthermore, says China’s sympathetic Xinhua newspaper, the joint projects cover integration of two petrochemical companies and, tellingly, a state-run television station, Telesur, for broadcasting information mutually vetted by the two governments.
- U.S. State Department spokesman Lou Fintor recently voiced American concerns that 100,000 Kalashnikov guns and a number of helicopters due to be sold by Russia to Venezuela could find their way to neo-Marxist guerrillas in Colombia and elsewhere. Our friends in Russia, according to the Interfax news service, see U.S. concerns as unfounded, adding, “U.S. protests should be viewed as nothing but a dishonest form of competition and an attempt to squeeze Russian producers from the arms market.” Apart from this purchase, there are reports that Venezuela is also considering Russian MiG-29 fighters as possible replacements for its F-16s. These arms dealings suggest that Russia sees an opening in South America and that Venezuela is not coy about advertising it. This has been noticed by regional daily papers throughout the U.S., which are echoing this writer’s call to uphold the sanctity of the Monroe Doctrine and check this rogue state before things get worse. For his part, a defiant Chavez has echoed Moscow’s socialist line: he has claimed that the U.S. wouldn‘t be bothered by similar arms purchases from U.S. vendors, and that the U.S. is more concerned with market share than national security.
- With an expanding economy and an increased international presence, it is no wonder that the strength of the Venezuelan state is increasing. Bloomberg reports Venezuelan government spending soared by almost half in December from a year ago, as record oil prices triggered a surge in revenue. Spending for the year rose 61 percent from 2003, indicating that December is no aberration. The analysts cited in the Bloomberg piece warn that Venezuela is in clover for the foreseeable future: their read is that “anything over $35 is plenty for Venezuela” and that conditions will be favorable for Chavez’s fiefdom through 2006.
- Reports are that government officials are floating the idea of Venezuela selling its Citgo oil chain. It seems that President Chavez has grown weary of “subsidizing” America’s oil needs. The only thing holding up the sale, apparently, is logistical inconvenience. According to government officials, it will take two years to get the sale on track. Meanwhile, Russia’s Lukoil behemoth is making noise about entering the U.S. gas station sector by buying an existing property. Lukoil buying Citgo looks inevitable.
Venezuela is on the move – militarily, economically, diplomatically. Why? The nation sees a changing of the guard globally. Chavez sees an opportunity to strengthen his position at the expense of Washington. And, as this editorial in the India Times claims, the Venezuelan position is rooted in the emergence of a new power bloc – which does not see the 21st as a New American Century.
Most Americans have yet to hear of the BRICS alliance – BRIC standing for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. That is unfortunate, as the position of this alliance is devoted to muscling the U.S. out of global markets where possible. As the editorial claims, Russia is now trading oil to China in exchange for collaboration in the “Geopolitical strategic defense” of Eurasia. Russia believes this is imperative, claims the India Times: “According to some international think tanks, sources close to Russia's Security Council say recommending countermeasures to check the U.S. geopolitical ‘offensive’ in Eurasia will be perhaps the forum's most important job.” To “check” American ambitions, Russia and China will conduct publicized joint military exercises later this year.
Sino-Russo interests, of course, extend far beyond Eurasia and into the heart of the Monroe Doctrine. This is Brazil’s utility in this alliance, and, by extension, Venezuela’s. Again, from the India Times:
The third emerging alliance is BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The newly formed Russia-China alliance provides Putin the necessary critical mass to move ahead and formally create the BRICS alliance. Recently Brazil moved ahead and formed a business alliance with Venezuela. China and Russia [and] also formed [an] alliance with Venezuela. In spite of Washington’s opposition, Russia plans to provide defense hardware to Venezuela and nuclear reactors to Iran…Putin’s current goal is to create the strategic BRIC alliance that will eventually become the strongest trade and military bloc in the world.
The ambitions of Putin and Hu Jintao is to dilute American power and potency. The India Times editorialist, tellingly, likens the emergence of BRIC or BRICS to the declaration of a “new Cold War.” But, opines the writer, Americans shouldn’t fret:
The cold war will not be similar to one between America and old Soviet Union…There will be cordial relations between China and America, India and America as well as Russia and America. The covert war will be in the area of trade, commerce and finance. That is where India and China stand out. Russian oil is a great factor. Russia-Venesuela [sic.]-Iran forms CRICS main oil and Gas resource.
Russia, Venezuela, and Iran – linked? That certainly would put the Bolivarian revolution into its proper context – as an usurping of power and as direct and deliberate sabotage of U.S. interests.
The Moscow Times recently was quite forthright about Russia’s plans for Venezuelan oil. “LUKoil plans to expand its U.S. filling-station network by 50 percent by acquiring retailers while increasing oil supply from Russia and Venezuela to the United States, LUKoil's chief executive said. LUKoil, which produces a fifth of Russia's oil, plans to secure about 3,000 U.S. retail outlets, up from more than 2,000 units now, Chief Executive Vagit Alekperov said. It plans to raise oil shipments from Russia and Venezuela to the United States to produce fuel locally.”
The idea that Russia should be the middleman for Venezuelan oil shipments to the U.S. feeds legitimate concerns that Putin is attempting to build up enough economic power to reassert Russian policy dominance, at least enough to constitute a deterrent to the goals of the Bush administration. He achieved such a status, independent of economics, by blocking Operation Iraqi Freedom. Which U.S. foreign policy objective will he and the rest of the BRICS alliance stifle next?