Hugo Chavez's WMDs: Remember the Maine?
Published 4/11/2005 12:06:51 AM | Spain's Europa Press news agency reports reports
that Venezuela purchased "biological and nerve agents" as well as
dual-use materials from Spain sometime during the first half of 2004.
According to a report about defense expenditures obtained by Europa
Press, Venezuela was the only country listed under the category of
"states to which chemical warfare agents and radioactive materials were
sold." An English translation appears here.
The accusation comes in the wake of Spain's announcement that it will sell conventional weaponry -- military transport planes and and patrol boats -- to Venezuela. I found the story through Iberian blogger Barcepundit, who notes that "If Rumsfeld was reportedly angry about the sale of planes and boats, boy I can only imagine what he'll think about this."
amount of biological or nerve agents probably isn't large -- Europa
Press sets the purchase price at 30,000 Euros, which isn't out of line
with the price of a single kilogram of South American heroin.
I'm not familiar with the going rates on the WMD black market, but
hopefully doomsday weapons are scarcer and therefore more expensive
than heroin. (A further 500,000 Euros was spent on the dual-use
materials which might be legitimately destined for the petroleum and
leather-tanning industries.) But any amount of WMD in the hands of the
Castroite Chavez regime is too much.
President Chavez may be a
thuggish autocrat, but he isn't stupid enough to use chemical or
biological weapons against American civilians, at least directly. He
may see them as insurance against the possibility of an American
invasion; however, the United States demonstrated in Iraq that threats
of chemical retaliation will not deter us should we decide to invade.
more likely scenario is the use of these WMD's for international
extortion against South American governments. Chavez's alleged links to
Colombia's narcoterrorist FARC and to Evo Morales's cocaleros in Bolivia suggest he could find a vector for the weapons should he
need one. The implicit threat of arming insurgent groups with WMD's may
compel these governments -- especially the precarious democracy in
Bolivia -- to accommodate Venezuela's policies or to reject ours.
Interestingly, Spain and Venezuela have both ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, Article I of which requires that:
Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never under any circumstances:
To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical
weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to
(b) To use chemical weapons;
(c) To engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;
To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any
activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.
Taken slightly more seriously than the CWC, however, is the Monroe Doctrine
-- the longstanding U.S. policy that Europe messes around in the
Americas at its own peril. Spain was reminded of this rule quite
forcefully in 1898, in a war that ended in its greatest defeat since
1588. The last time a foreign power tried to set up WMD's in a Latin
American country, President Kennedy blockaded the country, confronted
the Soviet ships, and nearly provoked nuclear war in the Cuban Missile
On April 21 the Latin American and Caribbean branch of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will meet
in Cartagena to discuss the ongoing implementation of the Chemical
Weapons Convention. At the top of the agenda should be Venezuela's
apparent contempt for its obligations under the Convention.
the United States should demand some answers from Spain. Most
importantly, is this information accurate, or has Europa Press just
published the Spanish equivalent of the Rathergate memos? These
are sufficiently disturbing that Europa Press needs to publish the
entire leaked report, and submit it to the world's scrutiny
the story is accurate: President Luis Zapatero was elected in the
aftermath of the 3-11 Madrid bombing. The Europa Press source dates the
sales to Venezuela from the first half of 2004, meaning it could have
been either the Socialist Zapatero or his pro-American predecessor Jose
Maria Aznar who arranged the sale. Which administration is responsible?
My first guess is that since Zapatero hasn't taken the opportunity to
decry his opposition's perfidious practice of selling weapons to rogue
dictators, he may end up with tapas on his face.
important than who sold the weapons is how much they sold, whether
delivery has been completed, whether the sales were only for that
quarter or they have been ongoing, and whether the exports were limited
to Venezuela. If Spain is not forthcoming with answers about its WMD
sales, Americans should consider a boycott of Rioja. And the U.S.
should ultimately consider designating both Venezuela and Spain "states
of proliferation concern" under the Proliferation Security Initiative,
encouraging the interdiction and search of Spanish ships just as we do
with North Korean vessels suspected of carrying illegal weapons.
this threat is real, the Bush administration must react strongly to
make certain that WMD's aren't finding their way into the Americas. Our
intelligence services need to figure out what Chavez is doing with
these weapons. And our diplomatic service needs to make it brutally
clear to Spain that we will not tolerate further arming of Chavez's
regime. As Admiral Dewey might have said, you may fire when ready,
Clinton W. Taylor
(firstname.lastname@example.org) is a lawyer and a Ph.D. candidate in
Political Science at Stanford. He was a Boren National Security Fellow
in Bolivia in 2001.
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