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A POLITICAL EARTHQUAKE IN VENEZUELA

By Michael Rowan for the Daily Journal

29 Jan 05 | A tectonic shift in the political landscape of Venezuela is underway that registers higher on the Political Richter Scale than any event in the nation since the riots of 1989.

The quake has three fault lines: the expansion of the Chavez revolution domestically; the exportation of the revolution to Colombia, Bolivia and the region; and the awakening of the United States to the Chavez threat to stability in the Americas.

The shift has nothing to do with the domestic opposition to Chavez, which is dead at the head but peopled with millions of Venezuelans hoping that he will fail.

With just about everybody in the country on the Chavez payroll, overtly or covertly, it is an amazement that Chavez could not entrench his revolution in the Venezuelan culture. Flush with billions in windfall profits from oil caused by a world price increase escalating from $9 per barrel in 1999 to almost $40 in 2004, it appeared that Chavez would be able to pay his way out of any domestic claim for rents.

But he has blown it, big time.

The invasions of rural farms and urban homes has affected hundreds of thousands of families. The rampant assault against private property rights – a fundamental element in the historical emergence of nation/states – has been perpetrated with crass impunity. The unilateral revisions of the strategic oil alliance contracts of the 1990s has pummeled the share prices of the international oil companies engaged in Venezuela, threatening one-third of its national production capacity.

Crime has become more random, vicious and universal, especially in the barrios, the supposed Chavez stronghold. Meanwhile, the corruption scandals in the Chavez regime seem to break new ground every week. The Danilo Andersen murder, which was touted by a raging Chavez as the slaying of a martyr for the revolution, has dissipated into a tawdry affair of selling government favors, and is comparable to scandals of the oligarchs that brought Chavez to power as a reformer.

But all domestic scandals pale before the situations in Colombia and Bolivia. And it is here that Chavez may face his Armageddon.

The confrontation with Colombia over the Granda affair is suicidal for Chavez and magnificent politics for President Alvaro Uribe. Granda’s capture has opened a pandora’s box containing the FARC presence in Venezuela. Pushing on this point will only reveal that Granda is but one toy soldier in the box of the FARC presence, which Chavez has denied with vehemence, as he did in the Peruvian Montesinos affair.

Breaking relations with Colombia and freezing border trade put another Venezuelan bullet in Chavez’ foot. The black market trade in drugs, dollars, gasoline and stolen cars is ten times larger than the official trade between the two nations, and the big profiteers in that black market are none other than regime officials, as always. This spells nothing but more internal trouble for Mr. Chavez.

But for President Uribe, it is a blessing in disguise. In his election campaign, he could have no better opponent than Hugo Chavez. As opposed to Venezuela, only Colombians vote in Colombia. So Uribe is likely to use Chavez as a whipping boy in Colombia, just as Chavez has used Bush to scare up election support in Venezuela -- a fitting irony to the Chavez story.

And the closer it gets to war, the more it will become apparent that Colombia would have an easier time in such an exercise as Israel had in Gaza in 1967, or the US had in Iraq last year. This is a potential embarrassment that the Venezuelan military cannot abide. It has been debilitated by internal spying and political loyalty oaths; sent on government tasks for which it was not prepared or intended; and has lost its mettle for defense.

In Bolivia, Chavez is helping to destabilize the Carlos Mesa government in favor of the coca labor union leader Evo Morales, because Evo is a revolutionary. A few million dollars can go a long way in dissolving Bolivia into civil war, and the U.S. believes Chavez is spending it. Former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada blames Chavez for his overthrow in the La Paz siege of 2003.

Finally, the U.S. has woken up from the fantasy that Latin America doesn’t exist. In the months since his re-election, President George W. Bush has already spent more time on Latin issues than in his entire first term. And his appointment of Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State is a sharp nail in the Chavez coffin.

Chavez plays around with Dr. Rice, a black woman of substantial intellect and power, at his own peril. He calls her ignorant and illiterate, and intimates that she needs a good lay with Chavez manhood to set her right. She will not respond to these insults on a personal basis. But Chavez may learn, and soon, that inside the slight figure of the first black woman to serve her country as foreign minister, beats a heart that has more power than any opponent ever imagined in his worst nightmare.

Chavez is in more trouble today than he was in April, 2002. And once again, it is all of his own making.

mrowan@cantv.net



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