by Austin Bay
July 20, 2010
Hugo Chavez's Venezuelan revolution has become abitterjoke. His nation's economy is collapsing. His archrivals inneighboringColombia just held a legitimate national election thatstrengthened their handagainst the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),the Marxist drugarmy Chavez backs. This week, the Organization of AmericanStates (OAS) willconvene to consider Colombia's evidence. The Colombianmilitary reportedly hasthe grid co-ordinates of FARC camps inside Venezuela.
Though the former right-wing paratrooper remains adarlingof the international political left, Venezuelans know Chavezis responsible fortheir current economic and political nightmare. The dictatorhas squanderedVenezuela's oil windfall and enriched his political cronies.
So Chavez rattles sabers and threatens war in ordertodivert increasing domestic opposition. At the moment,Colombia isn't hisprimary target -- its military is too strong. The Caribbeanisland of Curacao,however, lying just off the Venezuelan coast, provides Chavezwith a convenientenemy both geographically and politically.
Thus far the bully's threats have been gunboat hypeandshowboat hoopla. The question is, will bluster give way tobombs? Anexpansionary ideology propels Chavez, one that inflates hisalready explosiveego. He bills himself as the new Simon Bolivar, who willreunite the SouthAmerican continent while cowing the United States and otherimperialists --like the Dutch.
Which is where Curacao enters Hugo's gunsights.Though theDutch West Indies no longer formerly exists as a politicalentity, Hollandretains responsibility for Curacao's defense and otherforeign policy-relatedmatters.
Chavez uses the term "Chavismo" (thinkFidelCastro's "Fidelismo") to describe his politicalconcoction ofpopulism, machismo, socialism and caudilloism. Chavismo'smost potentinternational media tool, however, is relentlessanti-Americanism. Curacao,which currently hosts a U.S. base for drug interdictionefforts, is thus adiplomatic two-fer for attacking alleged European and Yankeeimperialists.
Recently, he accused the U.S. of planning an attackonVenezuelan using the base at Curacao.
Why take his latest threats seriously? ThoughChavez isclearly playing to a domestic audience by hyping a Yankeeinvasion, politicalchange is occurring in several former Dutch Caribbeancolonies. Curacao wantsgreater autonomy, similar to Holland's arrangements withAruba, another islandnear Venezuela. The new political arrangements are supposedto take effect inOctober 2010.
Where there is change there is uncertainty. Chavezdreams ofestablishing a new "Bolivarian state" in SouthAmerica composed ofVenezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, parts of Peru, Bolivia andGuyana, and the oldDutch West Indies. Colombia, the U.S. and, yes, Brazilfrustrate the creationof this super-state on the mainland, but gobbling a smallisland may bepossible, especially if he finances a pro-Venezuelan fifthcolumn.
A border war to recover allegedly lost territory isaclassic tyrant's tactic. In 1982, the Argentine militaryregime saw its grip onpower in Buenos Aires slipping, so it invaded the MalvinasIslands (theFalklands). However, that gambit failed when the Royal Navyand British Armycounterattacked. Following a swift and embarrassing defeat,the Argentinedictatorship toppled.
An expanse of open sea separated the Falklands fromArgentina. In a February 2007 article, StrategyPage.comconcluded geographicproximity, oil power and military hardware give Venezuela ahuge advantage overDutch defenses in the Caribbean. StrategyPage said Venezuelacould take thenearby islands, and the Dutch "lack the ability toretake the islands ontheir own should the "Greater Venezuela" rhetoricfrom the Venezuelandictator turn out to be for real."
Holland provides a useful rhetorical enemy, but theU.S. andGreat Britain, Holland's NATO allies, are formidable foes. AU.S. carrier groupand a few U.S. and Royal Marine battalions would crushChavez's invaders.However, Curacao's most precious economic asset, itsrefinery, would likelyburn -- a smoking disaster reminiscent of Kuwait's oilfields torched bySaddam's fleeing forces in 1991.
To counterattack, however, would mean Americanleaders arewilling to ignore the condemnations of Chavez's fellowanti-Americansympathizers in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East.Chavez, when herattled sabers in 2007, knew President George W. Bush wouldrespond vigorouslyto an actual attack. The cowboy would pull his gun.President Barack Obama,however, portrays himself as the anti-Bush. Does thedesperate dictator see anopportunity emerging?