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

Blood from Stones

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Press Releases

Chavez's Anti-Drug Crackdown
The Washington Post today brings word of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's suddenly intensified efforts to crack down on the booming drug trade through his country.

Elite troops have been dispatched primarily to blow up rudimentary airstrips near the Colombian border. New Russian-made attack helicopters are supposed to give added fire power to the forces of law and order.

The pictures and the story look good, but one wonders why, after years of indifference (at best) toward the drug traffickers using Venezuela as a favorite route, Chavez has chosen to react now.

And there is a more important question: why take measures that will do little to combat the real flow of drugs through Venezuela?

The answers to both lie in the documents recovered from the camp of FARC commander Raul Reyes, who was killed by Colombian troops in Ecuador last month.

The papers made clear Chavez's strong personal relationship with the leaders of the FARC, as well as the willingness to do drug business with the designated terrorist entity. They clearly demonstrate, too, that the FARC does a wide array of cocaine-based business, something they have long and misleadingly denied.

Despite his protestations of innocence and outrage following the release of the documents, Chavez has been faced with a severe public relations problem as a result of the disclosures. The documents leave so little to the imagination, and are authentic in their tone and content that denial has been, ultimately, futile.

So what is the next best thing, faced with the truth? Create an alternate narrative.

Despite growing concern from U.S., UN and European counter-drug officials that Venezuela has turned into a great black hole for drug shipments, primarily to Europe, Chavez has now declared himself at war with drug traffickers.

The targets, of course, are not ones that give credence to a serious effort. It would be difficult for Chavez to seriously crimp the FARC's cocaine sales, as everyone would suffer the consequences.

So, take some reporters along to blow up some old airstrips. That will certainly be a lesson to the drug traffickers. But the reaction does show one thing that brings a bit of hope.

For all his bombastic TV announcements and threats, Chavez's government cares about its international image. The image of Chavez as a terrorist-supporting, drug trafficking, authoritarian with little regard for the law is not good for business, even in his neighborhood.

So, there are points of leverage. The fact that the Embassy of Venezuela responded (however weakly, and it was a very weak response addressing none of the main issues raised in the documents) to the documents and so far unfruitful push by a few Republican congressmen to have Venezuela added to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, shows that the government feels the need to respond.

It is imperative that Latin American nations take the lead in dealing with Chavez on these issues. These are the first sign that he is seriously worried about the consequences of his actions being revealed.
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