Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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Chávez Excellent Adventure
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, apparently afraid that Colombia's willingness to allow Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) in Colombia, will spend early September visiting a number of pariah states in an effort to strengthen his standing.

According to the official presidential press office, Chávez will spend most of the first two weeks of September visiting Libya (where a convicted terrorist was just received as a hero by Gadaffi et al); Iran (whose newly-nominated defense minister Ahmad Vahidi is a wanted terrorist and responsible for numerous terrorist attacks, including one that killed Americans), then off to buy a battalion of tanks from Russia, arriving via Syria, another state sponsor of terrorism.

Lovely trip. While visiting Gadaffi, Chávez will also participate in an African Union summit, perhaps for the chance to rub elbows with Mugabe, Kabila and others to share lessons learned in destabilization.

Chávez is deeply vexed that Colombia would allow the United States to locate several FOLs in its national territory, a move largely designed to offset the loss of the Manta FOL in Ecuador, where the 10-year lease expired in July and was not renewed by the Correa government.

One of the issues that is of serious concern is not just the loss of the ability to monitor the Pacific corridor drug flights without Manta (a capacity that would be enhanced by the Colombian SOLs but would still be far less than it was in Manta), but the impact of the loss on the Mexican drug situation.

Already drug traffickers are switching to the Pacific corridor, knowing the route is now unwatched. That cocaine will land directly into Mexico, further enhancing the ability of the Mexican cartels to continue their bloodshed and threaten the central government.

Chávez's protestations about the evils of a foreign military base ring a bit hollow, however, given his enthusiastic and unsolicited offer to house Russian military air facilities for long-range strategic bombers, an offer that is under review by the Russians. The Russian bombers visited Venezuela last year, the first time since the end of the Cold War.

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, has offered a Caribbean island for the base and a team of Russian officers has already inspected the facilities, it has emerged.

Major General Anatoly Zhikharev, the Russian air force's chief of staff for long-range aviation, told reporters in Moscow that Chávez had proposed the site and the Russian side was considering it. "If a relevant political decision is made, this is possible," he said.

Hmm, what makes more strategic sense: a) negotiating the use of operating locations, under national control, in a friendly country with no increase in personnel, where a democratically elected government is fighting an armed insurgency that uses terrorism and is supported by drug trafficking, or b) offering an island for strategic long range bombers to a country that has no strategic interest in the region and with no protocol governing how Venezuela will safeguard its control of the process.

Chávez has already publicly acknowledged some $5 billion in weapons purchases from Russia since 2005. But he was badly humiliated in 2008 when, in that tiff with Colombia, he ordered 10 battalions to the Colombian border. Only he didn't have the capacity to carry out the order, or even come close. Russia, desperate to rebuild its arms industry, will sell to anyone with no conditions so Chávez wants more, even as his oil-filled coffers run dry.

So things are likely to get more tumultuous in Latin America before they get better. Chávez is upset he has been unable to reverse the ouster of Zelaya in Honduras and has lost Brazilian and Chilean support (vital because they are both socialist governments and alternatives to Chávez's radical populism) in his efforts to whip up anti Colombian and anti-U.S. sentiment over the FOLs. So he has to look outside the region to allies he hopes can save him, even if all they have to offer are new terrorist strategies.
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