On Point: Chavez and His Caribbean War

by Austin Bay
July 20, 2010

Hugo Chavez's Venezuelan revolution has become a bitterjoke. His nation's economy is collapsing. His archrivals in neighboringColombia just held a legitimate national election that strengthened their handagainst the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist drugarmy Chavez backs. This week, the Organization of American States (OAS) willconvene to consider Colombia's evidence. The Colombian military reportedly hasthe grid co-ordinates of FARC camps inside Venezuela.

Though the former right-wing paratrooper remains a darlingof the international political left, Venezuelans know Chavez is responsible fortheir current economic and political nightmare. The dictator has squanderedVenezuela's oil windfall and enriched his political cronies.

So Chavez rattles sabers and threatens war in order todivert increasing domestic opposition. At the moment, Colombia isn't hisprimary target -- its military is too strong. The Caribbean island of Curacao,however, lying just off the Venezuelan coast, provides Chavez with a convenientenemy both geographically and politically.

Thus far the bully's threats have been gunboat hype andshowboat hoopla. The question is, will bluster give way to bombs? Anexpansionary ideology propels Chavez, one that inflates his already explosiveego. He bills himself as the new Simon Bolivar, who will reunite the SouthAmerican continent while cowing the United States and other imperialists --like the Dutch.

Which is where Curacao enters Hugo's gunsights. Though theDutch West Indies no longer formerly exists as a political entity, Hollandretains responsibility for Curacao's defense and other foreign policy-relatedmatters.

Chavez uses the term "Chavismo" (think FidelCastro's "Fidelismo") to describe his political concoction ofpopulism, machismo, socialism and caudilloism. Chavismo's most potentinternational media tool, however, is relentless anti-Americanism. Curacao,which currently hosts a U.S. base for drug interdiction efforts, is thus adiplomatic two-fer for attacking alleged European and Yankee imperialists.

Recently, he accused the U.S. of planning an attack onVenezuelan using the base at Curacao.

Why take his latest threats seriously? Though Chavez isclearly playing to a domestic audience by hyping a Yankee invasion, politicalchange is occurring in several former Dutch Caribbean colonies. Curacao wantsgreater autonomy, similar to Holland's arrangements with Aruba, another islandnear Venezuela. The new political arrangements are supposed to take effect inOctober 2010.

Where there is change there is uncertainty. Chavez dreams ofestablishing a new "Bolivarian state" in South America composed ofVenezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, parts of Peru, Bolivia and Guyana, and the oldDutch West Indies. Colombia, the U.S. and, yes, Brazil frustrate the creationof this super-state on the mainland, but gobbling a small island may bepossible, especially if he finances a pro-Venezuelan fifth column.

A border war to recover allegedly lost territory is aclassic tyrant's tactic. In 1982, the Argentine military regime saw its grip onpower in Buenos Aires slipping, so it invaded the Malvinas Islands (theFalklands). However, that gambit failed when the Royal Navy and 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.com concluded geographicproximity, oil power and military hardware give Venezuela a huge advantage overDutch defenses in the Caribbean. StrategyPage said Venezuela could take thenearby islands, and the Dutch "lack the ability to retake the islands ontheir own should the "Greater Venezuela" rhetoric from the Venezuelandictator turn out to be for real."

Holland provides a useful rhetorical enemy, but the U.S. andGreat Britain, Holland's NATO allies, are formidable foes. A U.S. carrier groupand a few U.S. and Royal Marine battalions would crush Chavez's invaders.However, Curacao's most precious economic asset, its refinery, would likelyburn -- a smoking disaster reminiscent of Kuwait's oil fields torched bySaddam's fleeing forces in 1991.

To counterattack, however, would mean American leaders arewilling to ignore the condemnations of Chavez's fellow anti-Americansympathizers in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Chavez, when herattled sabers in 2007, knew President George W. Bush would respond vigorouslyto an actual attack. The cowboy would pull his gun. President Barack Obama,however, portrays himself as the anti-Bush. Does the desperate dictator see anopportunity emerging? 

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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