Sunday, March 13, 2005

Mar 13/05 - On a shift to containment in US-Venezuela relationship...Excellent reporting by FT's Webb-Vidal

PMBComment: We have an expression in Spanish which says "perro que ladra
no muerde", in contemporary US diplomatic parlance this morphed into
the infamous Maisto Doctrine "don't judge Chavez by what he says but
for what he does". Now, six years after he was first elected, we read
in the FT that Chavez's regional meddling is compared by the Pentagon
(and supposedly by the White House) to the feeding habit of hyenas.
What an amazing transformation for an Administration that gleefully
ushered the people of Venezuela into an "electoral", "constitutional"
and "democratic" precipice. I will believe that the U-turn is for real
when I see "Ambassadors" Roger Noriega and Charles Shapiro out of the
jobs they continue to hold to the dismay of all who never needed Roger
Pardo-Maurer's help to identify the beast that is now licking the
carcass of our democratic system. PMB

Bush orders policy to 'contain' Chávez
By Andy Webb-Vidal in Miami
Published: March 13 2005 21:42 | Last updated: March 13 2005 21:42

Senior US administration officials are working on a policy to
"contain" Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan president, and what they allege
is his drive to "subvert" Latin America's least stable states.

A strategy aimed at fencing in the government of the world's
fifth-largest oil exporter is being prepared at the request of
President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state,
senior US officials say. The move signals a renewed interest by the
administration in a region that has been relatively neglected in
recent years.

Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant secretary for western hemisphere
affairs at the US Department of Defense, said the Venezuela policy was
being developed because Mr Chávez was employing a "hyena strategy" in
the region.

"Chávez is a problem because he is clearly using his oil money and
influence to introduce his conflictive style into the politics of
other countries," Mr Pardo-Maurer said in an interview with the
Financial Times.

"He's picking on the countries whose social fabric is the weakest," he
added. "In some cases it's downright subversion."

Mr Chávez, whose government has enjoyed bumper export revenues during
his six years in office thanks to high oil prices, has denied that he
is aiding insurgent groups in countries such as Bolivia, Colombia and
Peru. But a tougher stance from the US appears to be in the offing, a
move that is likely to worsen strained bilateral relations.

The policy shift in Washington, which a US military officer said is at
an early stage but is centred on the goal of "containment", could also
have implications for the world oil market.

Mr Chávez has threatened to suspend oil shipments to the US if it
attempts to oust him. He and Fidel Castro, the Cuban president, have
alleged, without offering proof, that the Bush administration was
plotting to assassinate the Venezuelan leader, an allegation that US
officials have dismissed as "wild".

Suggestions that Mr Chávez backs subversive groups surface frequently,
although so far also with scant evidence. Colombian officials close to
President Alvaro Uribe say Venezuela is giving sanctuary to Colombian
guerrillas, deemed "terrorists" by the US and Europe.

US officials say Mr Chávez financed Evo Morales, the Bolivian
indigenous leader whose followers last week unsuccessfully tried to
force President Carlos Mesa's resignation. In Peru allegations emerged
suggesting that Mr Chávez financed a rogue army officer who tried to
incite a rebellion against President Alejandro Toledo in December.

Mr Chávez has dismissed such claims as fabrications designed to
undermine his attempts to foster greater political and economic
integration in Latin America.

Mr Pardo-Maurer said Washington has run out of patience: "We have
reached the end of the road of the current approach."

Venezuela restocks its arsenal
By Andy Webb-Vidal in Miami
Published: March 14 2005 00:39 | Last updated: March 14 2005 00:39

The US military's senior officer responsible for security co-operation
in Latin America has warned of the destabilising potential posed to
the region by the Venezuelan government's controversial, and opaque,
arms procurement programme.

Hugo Chávez, the president of the world's fifth-largest oil exporter,
has begun signing contracts to buy an array of weapons to revamp his
defences to thwart what he claims could be outside "aggression".

Such fears were intensified two weeks ago when Venezuelan officials
were alarmed by the presence of US warships and marines near Curaçao,
off Venezuela. US officials said it was a routine manoeuvre.

Equipment ranging from 50 latest-generation Mig-29 warplanes to dozens
of helicopter gunships, 100,000 Kalashnikov automatic rifles and a
fleet of naval vessels, have all been reported as imminent deliveries
to Venezuela's new arsenal.

General Bantz Craddock, the commander-in-chief of the US Southern
Command, said Venezuela's arms-procurement plan was a worry because
the motive was unclear, raising concern among its Latin American

"We are wondering just what is the intent here," Gen Craddock said in
an interview. "If it is for sovereign defence, obviously each nation
can do their own, and as well they should in terms of protecting their
sovereignty and their national boundaries."

But Gen Craddock, who is scheduled to testify before the Senate's
armed forces committee tomorrow, said it was unclear if the end-user
of some of the weapons, in particular the 100,000 rifles, really was

"If it is to export instability that is a different situation," he
said. "We are concerned about that and we would like that not to

US defence officials are especially concerned that once the rifles are
delivered, there is a high risk that other weapons or ammunition from
Venezuela could fall into the hands of Colombian guerrillas who are
seeking to overthrow President Alvaro Uribe, Washington's main ally in
the region.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, have long
received guns and ammunition from rogue factions within governments in
neighbouring countries.

Vladimiro Montesinos, Peru's spymaster under former president Alberto
Fujimori, is alleged to have arranged the delivery of 10,000
Kalashnikovs to the Farc as part of a covert operation when he was in

However, US officials are less concerned about Mr Chávez's apparent
plans to acquire Mig-29s from Russia. "Most up here figure this would
be a colossal waste of money for Chávez as he likely couldn't keep
these things in the air very long," said a US military officer.
Venezuela already has US-built F-16s and French Mirages but defence
analysts believe that few are operational.

Some US officials are more concerned by what they see as the lack of
financial transparency in the negotiation of the arms deals than by
the bellicose capability of the arms themselves. Price tags ranging up
to $5bn (€3.7bn, £2.6bn) have been reported as the total cost of Mr
Chávez's oil-financed defence spending spree, yet none of the
purchases has yet been debated in Venezuela's legislature.

"It's an orgy of corruption," said Roger Pardo-Maurer, deputy
assistant secretary for western hemisphere affairs at the US
Department of Defense.

Mr Chávez responded last month that the US had no moral authority to
make such complaints because it "lied" about the existence of weapons
of mass destruction as the principal justification for the invasion of