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Leadership: Mighty Venezuela Looks for Justice
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February 22, 2007: Venezuela is rearming, mainly via six billion dollars worth of Russian weapons. Officials insist that claimed the stuff is needed to protect the country from an American invasion. But for the last two years, Venezuelan officials, including the country's demagogic president, Hugo Chavez, have made numerous public statements about the "reunification" of the islands of the Dutch West Indies (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaτao) with Venezuela. Added to that there is the ancient claim on most of neighboring Guyana,  some disputed Colombian territorial waters, and very flimsy claims on Caribbean islands like Trinidad and Tobago. There has been some actions as well. Venezuelan violations of Dutch air space and territorial waters, including illegal over flights by military aircraft, have occurred with some frequency. In addition, Venezuelan authorities have urged residents of the islands to form "Bolivarian" cells, in support of eventual "reunification."

The Netherlands responded by reinforcing their West Indian garrison (with consists of a small naval contingent, a battalion of infantry, and some helicopters) with a flight of F-16s. The Dutch government also took the matter up with the European Union, and Britain (given that some other territories on which Venezuela is laying claims, such as Trinidad, Tobago and Guyana, are members of the British Commonwealth) and France (which also has overseas territories in the Caribbean).

No sane man would try to use force to settle these territorial disputes. But Chavez has been doing some pretty insane things inside Venezuela lately. He's been trashing the economy (like price controls that force farmers to either do illegal deals on the black market, or go out of business, and forcing foreign companies to sell their Venezuelan assets to the government at a fraction of their cost.) In a similar situation of mad desperation, the Argentinean military dictatorship tried to grab the Falkland islands from Britain in 1982. 

Going after Guyana would not only bring the British in, but probably the United States as well. That's because over a quarter million Guyanese live New York City, and senator Hillary Clinton would feel obliged to answer pleas from her constituents to do something. The population of Guyana itself is only 750,000, but the country is the size of Great Britain. The 60 percent of Guyana Venezuela claims is thinly populated, and many of those people have long been pro-Venezuelan. Still, Chavez would stir up a hornets nest going after Guyana.

Taking a grab for the Dutch islands would also be troublesome. Even if Venezuela follows thru and gets those nine Russian submarines, taking and holding these islands would bring forth a military response from the United States and Europe. Any halfway competent staff officer could point out to Chavez the high degree of risk in going after Guyana or Aruba (which does have a lot of oil). But Chavez has been blowing off competent advice of late, and is wary of his own military. He's replacing a lot of trained officers with yes-men. It may be time to expect the unexpected.

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