Forces: July 1, 2005

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  Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez recently gave members of his armed forces a  50 percent pay raise. This pay raise is  primarily due to the actions of Mr. Chavez in promoting his Bolivarian Revolution.

The Venezuelan military is capable force, including six Lupo-class frigates (equipped with a five-inch gun, eight Otomat anti-ship missiles, a Mark 29 launcher for the Italian Aspide surface-to-air missile, and a helicopter), two Type 209 submarines (a German design widely exported around the world), 22 F-16A Fighting Falcons, 15 Mirage 50s, and a mix or tanks (French AMX-30s and AMX-13s along with British Scorpion light tanks.) Venezuela has been considering the addition of MiG-29s to its force (reportedly as many as 50), but also is talking with Brazil about the purchase of a dozen AMX attack jets and 24 Super Tucano attack planes. Venezuela also is buying Spanish patrol craft and C-295 transports.

This is not the only development. In April, 20,000 reservists paraded in front of Chavez in Caracas. This is a new militia that Chavez hopes will reach 2.3 million, which is 46 percent of the Venezuelan population fit for military service. Chavez knows that a lot of his rhetorical confrontation with the United States (including personal insults directed at President Bush and Secretary of State Rice and threats to sever diplomatic ties with the United States over its refusal to extradite some anti-Castro terrorists) has upset some in the military, and there has already been one coup (in April, 2002) that was ultimately unsuccessful. He also figures that any subsequent coup plotters will probably have learned the lessons from the failed coup. The new militia is seen as a means to support a permanent power grab, or as a loyal force Chavez can rely on. The pay hike is another measure. Many soldiers will appreciate a 50 percent pay hike, and that appreciation can often lead to some of these soldiers warning the government of a planned coup.

The Venezuelan buildup is attracting concern across the region. Colombia is looking into additional weapons purchases (and suspects Chavez of supporting the FARC rebels, a charge Chavez denies) as a result, and in a region where there are often border disputes that have long defied solutions, this makes neighbors worried. Venezuela has had a long-running dispute with Guyana (in which Venezuela claims 60 percent of the smaller country). Chavezs conduct has made neighboring countries nervous, and as tensions (and the resulting arms race) escalate in South America, so does the chance that war could break out. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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