Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Chavez on the Move (Again)
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has just completed another tour of his "strategic partners," including Russia and Iran. The trip comes as Venezuelan territory is increasingly being used by Colombian drug traffickers as a safe haven and way station to move cocaine and heroin to the United States, Europe and elsewhere, and Chavez's internal financial accountability is evaporating.

While in Iran Chavez called Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad his ideological brother (again). This is his third trip to Iran in the past two years. Chavez gave other gestures of support, including the signing of numerous commercial deals that could help ease Iran's fuel crisis.

It is not an alliance based on shared religious or internal political values. It is based solely on the hatred of the United States and a willingness to do business together in a mutually beneficial way.

This, obviously, is not unique to this relationship. And if it were not for the Hezbollah link, it would not be particularly worrisome.

The Venezuelan support also includes, according to European intelligence sources, the issuing of Venezuelan passports to Hezbollah operatives active in Latin America and Africa, the two traditional _diaspora_ strongholds of Hezbollah supporters.

Of equal concern should be Chavez's meetings with Russian president Vladimir Putin, in an effort to buy up to nine submarines and other military hardware. Chavez has already spent billions of dollars on weapons in the past two years, alarming his neighbors and providing a ready arsenal for the FARC and other terrorist and criminal groups in the region.

With submarines, fighter jets, helicopters and a Kalashnikov factory, Venezuela is well positioned to wreak havoc on region that is just recuperating from the violence of the 1980s and 1990s.

In many countries (El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala) the violence of the Cold War proxy fighting has been replaced by even worse violence from drug cartels and violent gangs that now run much of the country.

Chavez's weapons purchases and willingness to bring the world's deadliest weapon into production on the continent, thereby making the AK-47 even cheaper and more accessible, is a potentially devastating move for much of Latin America.

Chavez, as the BBC reports, has chosen his partners with great care. It seems unlikely that, given the desire of the Bush administration to remain friendly with Putin, that the Venezuelan arms sales are even on the agenda for today's meeting.

That is a shame, because the careless disregard by Russia for the use of its weapons (something in which Russia is certainly not alone), has direct security implications for the United States. It is not another business deal in which we have no stake, or in which Latin America has no stake.

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