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

Blood from Stones

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Latin America's Arms Race: Chávez Leads the Way
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez has added another $2.2 billion to his shopping spree of Russian weapons, buying 92 new tanks and sophisticated anti-aircraft systems.

Chávez's buying spree (he is up to some $6 billion in the past three years) has helped fuel a destructive arms race in the region. While Colombia has spent more, and received more from the United States, it is fighting not only a narco-Marxist insurgency (the FARC) but a host of other armed criminal drug trafficking, narco-paramilitary gangs that threaten the state.

No other country is facing anything similar, yet as Andres Oppenheimer notes in the Miami Herald,the region is now engaged in an arms race that is wasting precious resources as the continent gets poorer.

What is particularly interesting about Chávez's purchases is that they focus on anti-aircraft capabilities, the very thing the FARC has asked Venezuela to provide, and a capability the rebels are desperately seeking. As multiple reports show, (and the Reyes computer documents clearly outline) the FARC has grown desperate for surface-to-air capacity because the military helicopters have been so lethally effective in the government's counter-insurgency campaigns.

A few downed helicopters would force the Colombians to radically rethink and redesign their strategy. One of the FARC documents, a letter from Raul Reyes to Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega (before Ortega was president) asks for $100 million, to be obtained from Libya, in order to purchase the weapons. The recent sting operation in Honduras against a retired Syrian military officer was centered on the acquiring of the weapons.

Chávez, in his seemingly firm belief that the primary threat to his existence is a U.S.-led aerial assault on Venezuela, seems to be doing all he can to insure that he protects himself.

Unfortunately, again as the Reyes documents show, he views the FARC as part of his rear-guard, able to help him wage an asymmetrical campaign against the invader when the fighting comes.

That means, but his logic, backed by his actions, that arming anyone, even terrorist organizations for which he has a strong affinity, is the best defense. That he is spending his nation into a serious hole in pursuit of that goal is a dangerous thing indeed.
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