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

Blood from Stones

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Venezuela Ramps Up its Border Security and Presses on with Iran
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is militarizing his border and urging his people to prepare for war, while at the same time lavishing billions of dollars to an essentially parallel government in Nicaragua and announcing yet another summit with Iran's Ahmadinejad.

None of these are good signs, given his creation of militia units that are responsible to solely to him while at the same time moving aggressively, as the International Crisis Group notes, to further shrink the democratic spaces in Venezuela in the face of growing unpopularity and discontent.

At the same time the support for the FARC and ELN (both designated terrorist organizations) is unabated and drug trafficking is booming.

According to the ICG, the Chávez government has progressively abandoned core liberal democracy principles guaranteed under the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The executive has increased its power and provoked unrest internally by further politicising the armed forces and the oil sector, as well as exercising mounting influence over the electoral authorities, the legislative organs, the judiciary and other state entities. At the same time, Chávez’s attempts to play a political role in other states in the region are producing discomfort abroad.

The proximate cause of Chávez's attempts to set the region on fire is his deep-held belief that the United States and Colombia (or through Colombia) are preparing to attack him. He seems to sincerely believe, as only true meglomaniacs can, that he is the center of U.S. policy and world policy.

While he may not like the U.S. use of existing bases in Colombia (and many Latin American nations are sympathetic to his view on this), there are few demands for transparency in Venezuela's dealings with Iran, Russia, Libya, the FARC or anything else. It is desirable that external actors in the region be forced into some transparency in their military activities in the region, but that should be across the board.

There are other inconsistencies.

Venezuela's agricultural production is so low that it imports more than two-thirds of its foodstuffs, yet Chávez talks of his relationship with Ahmadinejad in terms of Venezuela providing much needed food products to Iran. When Chávez ordered 10 battalions of troops to the border of Colombia in 2008 it quickly became apparent that his military did not have more than two or three equipped and ready to roll. As the International Crisis Group recently reported, his oil production is in steep decline and the money being used to buy friends abroad, exacerbating his severe social problems at home.

This may help explain El Comandante's insatiable desire to regionalize the conflict, his support for the FARC and tolerance for drug trafficking through Venezuelan national territory. As his own situation deteriorates, he wants to tie his fate to the fate of the continent. To help them all stand together, he has pumped some $7 billion into Nicaragua, where virtually none of it is accounted for, does not pass through congress, is not audited and at under the personal care of Daniel Ortega.

There is little doubt the Colombians can handle whatever Chávez were to dish out militarily. But he is more likely to take a less direct route, given the state of his army. The FARC, ELN and Emerging Criminal organizations are all good proxies to bleed the Colombian efforts to reestablish state control, and have the endless source of revenue in the cocaine trade and other criminal activities.

But that doesn't mean one should not take the clearly-articulated efforts to destabilize the region military lightly. Chávez will do whatever is best for Chávez, and the rest of the region (and hemisphere) need to clearly understand that.
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