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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Hugo Chavez: Al-Qaeda supporter and enemy of U.S.?

The war in Iraq is drawing most of the media attention. But, what is going on in Venezuela in particular and Latin America in general? The main stream media doesn't seem to be paying much attention. Hugo Chávez is a leftist former paratroop commander who governs Venezuela as a populist hero. He is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and of U.S. involvement in Iraq. He also looks like he is starting to spin out of control. First, is he paranoid? Venezuela News reports:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. government has plans to assassinate him and thus trigger chaos that would allow it to intervene militarily and take control of the South American country's huge oil reserves.

Should Chávez be worried? Is this a case of "even paranoids have enemies?" Does the U.S. have plans for regime change in Venezuela? The U.S. would certainly prefer that Chávez not be running Venezuela. Chávez, who has made no secret of his admiration for Cuban President Fidel Castro. He has praised "Cuba's attempts to establish an alternative economic model," which stands opposed to "free market neo-liberalism." Chávez also lauded Cuba's "example of courage and dignity in the face of international social and economic pressure."

Reuters reported yesterday:
The United States on Wednesday warned that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's policies could leave his country "poorer, less free and hopeless," and set a bad example for Latin American countries.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Roger Noriega told a congressional committee that Chávez's "efforts to concentrate power at home, his suspect relationship with destabilizing forces in the region, and his plans for arms purchases are causes of major concern."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday: The United States "was not involved in any way" in a short-lived coup against him.

However, reports from 2002 about Chávez's relationship with Al Queda have not been fully investigated:
High-level military defectors reveal new terrorist links between Al Qaeda and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. The man who controls the largest oil reserves in the Western hemisphere gave $1 million to the world's most wanted terrorist right after the 9/11 attacks.

Hugo Chávez would not admit it publicly, but in private, he was very impressed with Osama Bin Laden's work. The Venezuelan strongman publicly rails against the United States and "neo-liberal capitalism" which, according to him, represents "hell on earth". He has never visited the White House, but has instead been to China, Libya, Iraq, and Havana, Cuba.

The doublespeak of Hugo Chávez served him particularly well in the aftermath of 9/11. In the 48 hours following the terrorist attack he vanished from sight.But when he finally did speak, he first assured the foreign press that he was against terrorism. However, locally, in his first TV broadcast, he then stated that "The United States brought the attacks upon itself, for their arrogant imperialist foreign policy."

And in private, he went further still; proclaiming admiration for the terrorist attacks.

" - With 9/11, Bin Laden showed the whole world that he was a force to be reckoned with. This impressed Hugo to no end," remembers General Pedro Pereira, the highest-ranking general in the Venezuelan airforce, who was still a Chávez loyalist in 2001.

While the U.S. worrys about Iraq, Latin America looks like it is moving away from the United States. Washington Times reported:
The inauguration March 1 of Tabare Vazquez as president of Uruguay was the latest in a string of electoral victories for leftist and populist candidates. One of the first acts of Mr. Vazquez, a doctor and former mayor of Montevideo, upon taking office was to restore diplomatic ties with Fidel Castro's Cuba.

Bottomline: What is Chávez's connection to Al-Qaeda? Has he crossed a political line and become an enemy of the United States? Does Washington have a coherent strategy to protect U.S. interests in Latin America?

Links:
Venezuela's Chavez may indeed be in somebody's crosshairs [Venezuela News, Mar. 9, 2005]
U.S. says Chavez's Venezuela bad example for Latam [Reuters, Mar. 9, 2005]
Rice denies U.S. involved in Chavez coup [Guardian, Mar. 9, 2005]
Latin America taking left turn [Washington Times, Mar. 10, 2005]
Another Castro in Latin America? [WorldNetDaily.com]
9/11: Chavez financed Al Qaeda, details of $1M donation emerge [MilitaresDemocraticos.com, Dec. 31, 2002]
Chavez Maintains Silence: Will Not Explain His $1M Al Qaeda Financing [MilitaresDemocraticos.com, Jan. 6, 2003]
Chavez Bombshell? [NationalReview.com, Jan. 8, 2003]

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