Thursday, July 06, 2006

Venezuela Seeks Membership in Axis of Evil

As Chavez prepares to travel to North Korea, apparently to negotiate an oil-for-missiles deal, it's worthwhile to look at the extent of Venezuela's military buildup. The International Institute for Strategic Studies opines that Chavez's spending seems to be more for modernization than buildup.

Disturbingly, it is once again our 'ally,' Russia, that is supplying Venezuela with much of its hardware.

Go back and read the Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady for her insightful commentary on Chavez. This piece on his flirtations with Iran seems to be free to nonsubscribers, while this one is not. I'll provide an excerpt to give you a flavor:

A Vote for Venezuela Is a Vote for Iran
June 23, 2006; Page A11

There are elections taking place this fall that will have a major impact on Americans. But we're not talking about congressional races at home. This balloting is for the five non-permanent U.N Security Council seats that will open up in 2007.

In Latin America, the competition between Guatemala and Venezuela for the U.N. Security Council seat that Argentina will vacate at the end of this year is of particular importance.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has made it clear that when it comes to geopolitics, his preferences lie with hostile states like Iran, Cuba, Sudan and North Korea. A seat on the Security Council, where the presidency also rotates monthly, would give the Venezuelan strongman ways to make those preferences operational at the multilateral level.

Five of 15 seats on the Security Council are permanent (held by China, Russia, France, Britain and the U.S.). The other 10 slots are two-year terms. Only permanent seats have veto power but to pass a resolution requires nine ayes. That means every seat matters and if Venezuela gets on the council, it could help block a resolution -- that has not been vetoed -- against its much-admired ally Iran.

Guatemala announced its candidacy for this seat in 2002, but in 2005 Venezuela also threw its sombrero in the ring. U.N. rules say that each region can select its own candidate for an open seat. But if "consensus" around one candidate cannot be reached regionally, the full U.N. general assembly votes in secret ballot. Both Guatemala and Venezuela are working hard to shore up votes for that eventuality.

The Venezuelan ambassador to the U.N. warned the world recently that a vote for Guatemala is a vote for the U.S. There's a grain of truth to that since Guatemala is an American ally, with a government that shares our world-view on multilateral efforts to contain despots. But what is truer still is that a vote for Venezuela is a vote for Iran, which shares the current Venezuelan values of tyranny and aggression.

Guatemala points out that it is a founding member of the U.N. but has never had a seat on the council. It also argues that small countries with valuable experience in the region are too often overlooked for the Security Council and that the last time any Central American country had a seat was in 1997-98.

...Chief among its qualifications is its active role in international peace-keeping. Coban, in Guatemala, is now home to a Central American regional peacekeeping school and training center. Today, Guatemalan peacekeepers are in the Congo and in Haiti, and military observers and officers are in five other African nations, including Sudan. In January eight Guatemalan peacekeepers were killed in the Congo. In expressing U.S. support for Guatemala's candidacy this week, a State Department spokesman noted the fact that "Guatemalans have shed blood for the U.N.," making the country "a strong candidate, and deserving of support."

...Guatemala emphasizes its democratic credentials, as well as its view that the seat is a voice for the region, not for its own national interests. Compare this to the Venezuelan campaign, which rests largely on oil "diplomacy" and the capacity to push anti-American buttons around the U.N.

It may seem strange that Venezuela has any support in the region. Over the past seven years, its meddling in its neighbors' domestic politics have earned it a reputation as a bully. Mr. Chávez is persona non grata in more than a few Latin nations. Many countries are worried about Venezuela's big spending to acquire fighter jets and 100,000 kalishnikovs from Russia. Yet, despite all this, the Chávez government has money, and this has allowed it to advance its cause.

Of the 33 members in the region, 12 are from English-speaking Caribbean islands. These poor economies (many of them crime-ridden) have become heavily dependent on subsidized Venezuelan oil and on Cuba's legendary traveling doctors and teachers. It wouldn't be surprising if some of these countries were to line up with Venezuela.

Argentina, once a haven for Nazis and more recently a harbor for accused Spanish and Chilean terrorists, is also a Venezuelan pawn now. The country has been so incompetent about managing its resources that it too needs charity from Mr. Chávez, making it about as independent from the oil dictatorship as Bolivia and Cuba. More surprising is Brazil's decision to side with Mr. Chávez, who as Bolivia's unofficial energy adviser orchestrated the confiscation of Brazilian assets there recently. Apparently, the eternal Brazilian struggle to prove that it can challenge U.S. "hegemony" in the region trumps the need to regain dignity and protect its investments abroad.

In spite of all this, Guatemala has the solid backing of the more serious democracies in the region -- such as Colombia and Mexico -- and insists that it will not withdraw its candidacy. That means that in all likelihood the vote will probably go to the General Assembly. Guatemala believes it can win that ballot. Let's hope so. If not, Latin America will have handed Iran a victory that is likely to threaten world peace.

Lastly, this is a great, recent piece by O'Grady on Chavez's 'justice system;' you know - the one Cindy Sheehan wants to live under:

Venezuelan Justice on Trial
June 30, 2006; Page A13

Henrique Capriles, a Caracas mayor, is one of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's worst nightmares. Forget about U.S. battleships in the Caribbean or discontent in the Venezuelan military. Mr. Capriles, whose only weapons in opposition to the national government are his ideas, symbolizes what Mr. Chávez really fears. So much so that the president is now trying to lock him up.

In 2004 Mr. Capriles spent four months in a Venezuelan jail even though no charges were brought against him at the time. Now he has been formally accused of an assault on the Cuban embassy, a charge so absurd that even Kafka wouldn't have tried to spin it in fiction. The case is supposed to go to trial today.

...Mr. Capriles, who was re-elected mayor of a section of Caracas known as Baruta in 2004 with 80% of the vote, is far from the only Chávez opponent who stands accused of a crime. But the charges against him are among the most far-fetched. Over breakfast in New York some months ago, he told me about the case, which begins on April 12, 2002, the day after 19 people had been killed during a peaceful march against Mr. Chávez and the military had removed the president from office.

An angry crowd had gathered outside the Cuban embassy on rumors that members of the Chávez government were inside. The mob of an estimated 2,000 had damaged cars and cut the water to the embassy. According to Mr. Capriles, there was "a lot of uncertainty."

...When he arrived at the embassy he remembers that an employee in civilian clothes was perched on the wall surrounding the compound. The man called down to the mayor to say that the door was barricaded for security reasons but that he would put a ladder out so that Mr. Capriles could come over the wall.

Mr. Capriles claims that Ambassador German Sánchez Otero welcomed him by his first name and thanked him for coming. "We had had a friendly relationship before that day," Mr. Capriles told me. The ambassador, Mr. Capriles says, said he knew the problem outside the embassy was not the mayor's responsibility and that he was trying to contact "President Carmona Estanga," the man who had stepped into Mr. Chávez's shoes.

Mr. Capriles says that while he was in the embassy, the Norwegian ambassador phoned to offer help. The Cuban told the Norwegian that the "mayor of Baruta is here" and "helping us." The Norwegian ambassador has backed up Mr. Capriles's recollection of that conversation.

...Six months later a warrant was issued for Mr. Capriles's arrest, without a charge. Fearing that he couldn't get a fair shake, he went into hiding. While he was a fugitive -- an experience he says was the worst in his life -- he saw a television interview in which the prosecutor was asked why there was an arrest warrant out for the mayor. He replied: "This is the case of Cuba." Mr. Capriles eventually turned himself in and spent the first 20 days in jail locked in a room with no windows.

...Mr. Capriles argues that videotape evidence shows what happened that day at the embassy and though Cuba has issued its own doctored version of the tape, he is confident that he will be exonerated if all the facts come out. The Norwegian ambassador's testimony will also help. Yet given the sinister nature of this government, justice seems remote. What seems more likely is that Fidel Castro is coaching his Venezuelan protégé in the art of disposing of an opponent. It can be no accident that Mr. Sánchez Otero has been at the Cuban embassy in Caracas for 14 years, having arrived the same year Mr. Chávez launched his failed coup d'état. Mr. Capriles is being made an example. Harassing, intimidating and imprisoning a charismatic opponent of the "Bolivarian revolution" is meant to discourage those who might be tempted to follow his lead.

Mr. Capriles symbolizes a generational shift in Venezuelan politics. As life has deteriorated over the past few years for his countrymen, Mr. Chávez has retained support by persuading the disenfranchised masses that the only alternative to chavismo is reverting to the corruption of the traditional party system that drove the country into poverty. Now along comes Mr. Capriles -- one of the founders of a new party called Justice First, which grew out of a 1992 student movement concerned about the country's judicial system -- to spoil Mr. Chávez's convenient but false dichotomy.

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