The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War Against Americaby Douglas Schoen, Michael Rowan
A chilling account of Hugo Chávez's shadow war on the United States
The American government has shrugged off South American politics for nearly forty years. In the meantime, our neighbor to the south has grown into an unprecedented threat. Hugo Chávez, the current president of Venezuela and a self-proclaimed enemy of the/b>/b>
A chilling account of Hugo Chávez's shadow war on the United States
The American government has shrugged off South American politics for nearly forty years. In the meantime, our neighbor to the south has grown into an unprecedented threat. Hugo Chávez, the current president of Venezuela and a self-proclaimed enemy of the United States, commands what even Osama bin Laden only dreams of but few Americans see him as a true danger to this country. This book argues that we should.
Chávez has the means and the motivation to harm the United States in a way that few other countries can, and he has declared an "asymmetric war" against America. He runs a sovereign nation that is the fourth largest supplier of oil to the United States. He enjoys annual windfall oil profits that equal the net worth of Bill Gates. He has more modern weapons than anyone in Latin America. He has strategic alliances with Iran, North Korea, and other enemies of America, yet he has duped many Americans from influential political and cultural leaders to ordinary citizens who benefit from his oil largess through his state-owned oil company into believing that he is a friend.
Drawing on two decades of experience working at the highest level of Venezuelan and American politics, Schoen and Rowan go behind the scenes to examine Chávez's efforts to subvert both the American economy and his own country's stability. Not only did he help drive the price of oil from ten dollars a barrel to more than a hundred dollars a barrel, he's sponsored and become increasingly involved in civilian massacres, drug running, money laundering, nuclear weapons proliferation, and terrorist training.
Schoen and Rowan have both the insight and the access to make a case not yet made in the American media. Over the course of the past decade while living and working in Venezuela as writers and political consultants, they've investigated Ch‡vez's past, explored his family connections, and gone up against him in a series of elections. Their startling revelations about Ch‡vez's rise to power and his reach into American politics make this the kind of urgent, newsbreaking narrative that will spark vital debate in the corridors of power.
"It's time to pay attention to the alarm bells; we should engage with our southern neighbors to address pressing security threats across the hemisphere, including those from Caracas." U.S. Congressman Ike Skelton (Democrat, Missouri), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
"Hugo Chávez is (or should be declared) a state sponsor of terror, and The Threat Closer to Home tells us why." U.S. Representative Connie Mack (Republican, Florida), member of the Foreign Affairs Committee
- Free Press
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Read an Excerpt
Anti-U.S. networks are here to stay. Chávez is throwing his one-pipeline-state petrodollars around to cultivate bonds beyond comrades in Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Ties with Iran, Russia, China, Argentina, Ecuador and Caribbean states are intensifying....Chávez wants to parlay his petrorevenue and pseudorevolution into a global anti-American role.
Roger Cohen, The New York Times, December 3, 2007
Standing at the podium of the United Nations in September 2006, he seemed like any world leader we're accustomed to seeing at the General Assembly. Jet-black, short-cropped hair, dark complexion; a dark suit, crisp white shirt and red tie; he clasped his hands together in prayer gazing upward, the presidential teleprompters at either side. When he spoke, he sounded intelligent, informed, confident, imposing. He opened with a reference to one of Noam Chomsky's books. And shortly after some modest applause, he began referring to President Bush as "the devil" and the West's spokesman for imperialism. "Yesterday the devil was here right in this spot," he said, crossing himself as if anointed by the deity. "This table from where I speak still smells from sulfur," he added. "It would take a psychiatrist to analyze the U.S. president's speech from yesterday." When not bashing the leader of the free world, Chávez excoriated the UN itself. "I believe that almost no one in this room would stand up to defend the system of the United Nations. Let's admit with honesty, the UN system that emerged after World War II has collapsed, shattered; it doesn't work."
Who is this man? one wonders. What is his agenda? How seriously should the rest of the world take his rhetoric? Does he back his words with actions? And when he does, how does it affect other nations? How should the United States respond? These are critical questions. This Latin American potentate, unknown to the majority of the American public, is a far greater threat to our national security than the cleric with the long gray beard, the easily recognized religious zealot, Osama bin Laden. The cold reality is this: Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, is a much more dangerous individual than the famously elusive leader of al-Qaeda. He has made the United States his sworn enemy, and the sad truth is that few people are really listening. More important, is our government listening?
Some see him as a clown, but his histrionics mask the danger he poses. Our economy is in shambles in large part because he has successfully driven up the price of oil to record levels. He's propped up Iran's economy over the last few years and so is supporting state-sponsored terrorism. He is also most likely advocating on behalf of Hamas and Hezbollah, and even tolerating Hezbollah's presence in his country. Further, recent revelations about the FARC the Colombian guerrillas show he has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to support terrorist activity in the southern hemisphere, perhaps even supporting the development of a dirty bomb. In the meantime, he's buying off American leaders across the political spectrum.
In sum, Hugo Chávez is one genuinely scary individual who suddenly has a much larger platform on today's geopolitical stage than anyone predicted. "I'm still a subversive," Chávez has admitted. "I think the entire world should be subverted."
"America is very naïve about the threat Chávez poses," says Otto Reich, a former Ronald Reagan ambassador to Venezuela and assistant secretary of state for the western hemisphere in the Bush administration. "Today, Chávez is at least as dangerous as bin Laden; he's preparing his attack; he's even implementing the attack, but too many of America's leaders are still ignoring him. This could be a tragedy bigger than 9/11."
When our vulnerability was tested at the beginning of this century by an enemy without a country, we tightened security at our borders, scrutinized foreigners, and generally speaking, closed ranks. We grudgingly gave up some of our freedoms after the Office of Homeland Security was created. We reasoned that it was now a different world.
But it's not just our infrastructure that's vulnerable. It's not just our culture and American democracy. It's the very core of what makes us the envy of the free world: our economy.
Industry, imagination, and a willingness to strive are traits that we treasure. We are only 4 percent of the world's people but we provide more than 25 percent of the world's economic output an enviable position of strength and prestige. But our very power and presence in an interdependent and interconnected world makes us a target for the rage and resentment of an attack from a few strategically placed people among the other 96 percent the 6.4 billion non-Americans who populate the rest of the world.
Our trade deficit $3.8 trillion since 2000 is enormous, unprecedented, and perilous, and makes the dollar vulnerable to an attack that's already begun. When the euro was first floated just a few short years ago, it traded at 90 cents. At the time of this writing, it has hit $1.55, weakening our buying power in the European Union. The dollar has declined against other major currencies as well.
Our shaky economy is being propped up by foreign investment at a perilous time for U.S. security. The United States is still the leader of the free world, but our foothold is weak. Our military forces are spread thin: we are conducting controversial, unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and are involved in humanitarian and security missions in 70 of the world's 192 nations. Some 200,000 U.S. troops are currently deployed to the Iraqi and Afghani theaters, and many troops are required to do multiple tours of duty. Our generals complain that our air fleet is dangerously outdated, with crucial planes, such as F-15s, frequently grounded; the other services say there is a pressing need for modernizations. Yet, whatever our shortcomings, our very reach and visibility continue to inspire envy and hatred, and make us increasingly vulnerable to attacks.
A generation has gone by since the Cold War thawed and two superpowers ruled the earth. We now live in a symbiotic society, where each country is beholden to another in some way or another natural resources, food and health support, disaster relief, trade agreements, and so on. This symbiosis, happy or not, depending on the circumstances, leaves us open to criticism on the worldwide political stage. We cannot afford all the altruism we'd like to pursue, nor can we be everything to everyone.
Every day our position as economic and military colossus erodes slightly. Why? We import more than half the oil we need to operate our economy, which makes us vulnerable to volatile oil-producing regimes that are unfriendly to our way of life. Oil recently traded at $125 to $147 a barrel, causing significant pain for businesses and consumers, and fueling inflation in a number of sectors, especially food sales. A similar spike in oil prices or a decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and China to dump the dollar in favor of some other reserve currency would inflict grievous harm on the U.S. economy and severely endanger its standing as the world's sole superpower. And as the fourth largest supplier of oil to the United States, Venezuela has made us one of her thirstiest customers, providing us with $29 billions' worth in 2007 alone.
Chávez has the means and motivation to harm the United States in a way that no other country and perhaps no other terrorist organization could. He prepared for this role at the feet of one of the world's most cunning and effective dictators, Fidel Castro. One cannot discount how much Castro's aura has shaped Chávez's thoughts and actions. We've already seen the halo effect on Chávez that allowed Fidel Castro to rule Cuba for half a century mainly with Soviet support. The Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted admiringly: "Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez seems to have succeeded in bringing education and health services to the barrios of Caracas, which previously had seen little of the benefits of that country's rich endowment of oil."
A number of Venezuelans, however, believe that Stiglitz has been seriously misinformed. When Chávez was elected to the presidency in December 1998, polls showed that 80 percent of Venezuelans believed he would lead his nation out of endemic poverty. Three years later, fewer than 40 percent believed it and 800,000 Venezuelans took to the streets in a massive protest against Chávez's authoritarianism. He was briefly overthrown by his own military, which refused his order to shoot civilian protesters. Chávez claims this was the doing of white oligarchs in a conspiracy planned and implemented by the United States, the CIA, and President George W. Bush.
To those Americans who think they understand him, Hugo Chávez may seem like a blowhard, all bluster and little substance, a Castro pretender and acolyte known mostly for his baiting of President Bush. He has labeled Bush a genocidal maniac, a warmonger, a drunkard, a coward, and the world's number one terrorist. While Bush's favorability ratings hovered at a mere 30 percent in U.S. polls in the fall of 2008, by any decent critical standard, Chávez's calumnies are still over-the-top. Even Fidel had better manners when taking American leadership to task. Yet it's easy for Bush's adversaries and denigrators to find common ground in this Venezuelan autocrat.
When Chávez pontificates about Bush as Satan or decries capitalism as the world's worst horror ("Jesus Christ was the first Socialist and Judas the first Capitalist," he told Rome officials in 2005), few Americans take him seriously and fewer still see in Chávez a real danger to this country.
This is a serious underestimation.
With Hugo Chávez commanding the Venezuelan pipeline, America is facing an unprecedented and unrecognized threat. When asked about the looming scythe over our heads, State Department officials merely shrug, though the U.S. military's threat assessment rule is to analyze an adversary's capabilities first and intentions second. There are many who harbor bad intentions toward the United States, but only a few who possess the capability to do anything about it. Chávez is one of these few because:
His de facto dictatorship gives him absolute control over Venezuela's military, oil production, and treasury.
He harbors oil reserves second only to those of Saudi Arabia; Venezuela's annual windfall profits exceed the net worth of Bill Gates.
He has a strategic military and oil alliance with a major American foe and terrorism sponsor, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
He has more soldiers on active and reserve duty and more modern weaponry mostly from Russia and China than any other nation in Latin America.
Fulfilling Castro's dream, he has funded a Communist insurgency against the United States, effectively annexing Bolivia, Nicaragua, Dominica, and Ecuador as surrogate states, and is developing cells in dozens of countries to create new fronts in this struggle.
He is allied with the narcotics-financed guerrillas against the government of Colombia, which the United States supports in its war against drug trafficking.
He has numerous associations with terrorists, money launderers, kidnappers, and drug traffickers.
He has more hard assets (the CITGO oil company) and soft assets (Hollywood stars, politicians, lobbyists, and media connections) than any other foreign power.
These are formidable and perhaps unique capabilities on the world scene. But does Chávez intend to use these weapons against us? We believe he means it when he says, "We have made it very clear. Our enemy is the American empire," and "If the U.S. Empire succeeds in consolidating its dominance, then humankind has no future, therefore, we have to save humankind and put an end to the U.S. Empire."
Chávez longs for the era when there will be no liberal international order to constrain his dream of a worldwide "socialist" revolution: no United Nations, no World Bank, no International Monetary Fund, no Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, no World Trade Organization, no international law, no economic necessity for modernization and globalization. And perhaps more important, he longs for the day when the United States no longer polices the world's playing field. Chávez has spent more than $100 billion trying to minimize the impact of each international institution on Latin America. He is clearly opposed to international cooperation that does not endorse the Cuba-Venezuela government philosophy.
"Look, I think the first thing to acknowledge when one goes to war," Chávez told the TV interviewer Carlos Croes in 2005, "is that one has to begin hating the..." [Croes interrupts] "To hate him?" [Chávez continues] "To hate him! I mean, you cannot go to war loving the person. We have to start getting ready to see the gringos as enemies, and that's the first preparation for combat."
In fact, worldwide polls show that the United States is currently the most despised nation on earth. Yale's Amy Chua believes it's because "America today has become the world's market-dominant minority...Americans have attained heights of wealth and economic power wildly disproportionate to our tiny numbers." Chávez exploits this. He is deeply shamed by the history of slavery and subjugation of the Indo-Afro (dark-skinned) people and believes that confiscation of property, revenge, warfare, violence, and hatred are all justified as payback. We are dealing with a vindictive, vengeful man on the verge of megalomania, and we have not yet fully comprehended his potential to spread his wrath throughout much of the free world.
In the following pages, we'll examine five critical fronts of Chávez's initiative against what he calls "the evil empire." These are his oil; his alliance with Iran; the FARC's guerrilla war in Colombia; promoting anti-American states; and building friendly or so-called soft assets in the United States.
The "Oil Weapon"
By driving up the price of oil, Chávez is seeking to undermine the American economy a goal he has declared publicly many times. He knows that higher oil will jack up inflation, exacerbating America's present economic downturn. The use of what Chávez calls the "oil weapon" is a conscious strategic initiative on his part that already has resulted in higher gas prices, economic dislocation, and oil market uncertainty.
His goal is to aggrandize himself at America's expense. As the New York Times columnist Roger Cohen has noted, "Chávez wants to parlay his petrorevenue and pseudorevolution into a global anti-American role....High oil prices will tend to accentuate the long-term erosion of American dominance."
Chávez's first act as president was to seize absolute control over Venezuela's national oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., PDVSA (pronounced "pay-day-VEY-sa"), which he had criticized as "a state within a state" during his presidential campaign. From 2001 to 2004, the Chávez takeover of Venezuela's oil sector (and the money and power that followed) involved a series of massive protests, a coup d'état that was reversed, a national strike that petered out, and a recall referendum against the president, all of which Chávez miraculously survived.
From early on, Chávez had helped to drive up the price of oil: from $8 a barrel when he assumed power in 1999 to $40 in 2004 and $147 in 2008. Over this period, Chávez shorted the oil market by 3 million barrels a day. Had this shortage been made available in 2008, it could have pushed prices down to the $50-a-barrel range or about $2.25 for a gallon of gas in the United States. Americans think ExxonMobil is earning obscene profits, but its CEO's penchant for increasing the company's earnings is mild compared with Venezuela's. Of all the members of OPEC (the oil cartel was a Venezuelan idea), Chávez has lobbied most aggressively for the highest prices since its founding.
It's no surprise that oil is Chávez's weapon of choice. Today, Chávez estimates that Venezuela has reserves of 307 billion barrels of oil, second only to Saudi Arabia. And that's approximately ten times the amount of reserves held by the United States.
Venezuela's Alliance with Iran
Venezuela's ties to the radical Islamist regime in Iran have indirectly (and possibly directly) resulted in state-sponsored terrorism against the United States, its allies, and its interests. By directly supporting Iran with commercial projects and oil revenue, Chávez has provided much-needed resources to prop up the ailing Iranian economy. This, in turn, freed up Iranian money for terrorists whose goal is to undermine American interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and indeed around the world.
Most Venezuelans were surprised when Chávez courted Iran shortly after taking office in 1999, but the record shows that Chávez had long intended to ally with Iran to harm the United States. When he was only a fledgling captain in Venezuela's military in 1982 three years after Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution deposed the Shah of Iran Chávez swore allegiance to a military conspiracy to take power in Venezuela and to use oil, OPEC, and allied Middle East nations as weapons against U.S. dominance.
As president, Chávez made four official visits to Iranian president Sayyed Mohammed Khatami, who returned the interest with several trips to Venezuela. But he found his real soul mate in Iran's radical new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was elected in 2005. In 2006, on an official visit, Chávez immediately pledged to join Iran against the "evil empire" of "the imperial U.S.," while Ahmadinejad praised Chávez as "a worker of God and servant of the people [who] works perpetually against the dominant system [the U.S.]." Ahmadinejad visited Ecuador and Nicaragua, both allies of Venezuela and Chávez, in 2007.
The alliance has blossomed into a mutual defense pact against their common enemy, the United States. It also entails $20 billion of oil and military contracts and more than 180 trade agreements. These contracts have created a joint bank, an oil industry technical program, and a joint fund. Additionally, they have created a jointly owned petrochemical complex in Iran, 51 percent owned by Iran and 49 percent owned by Venezuela. The two countries have constructed a second petrochemical complex in Venezuela, at a total combined cost of $1.4 billion. Reports have documented the presence of Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah terrorists in Venezuela, and the strategic placement of Iranian missiles on Venezuela's border. The missiles are reportedly aimed against the democratically elected government of Colombia the prime mover in the war against cocaine financed by the United States.
Guerrilla Warfare in Colombia
Chávez has tried to put pressure on the United States by supporting the Communist guerrilla insurgency in neighboring Colombia. Even as the United States has spent nearly $6 billion over the last decade in an effort to stabilize Colombia, curtail its cocaine traffic, and eliminate the insurgency (which is funded largely by drugs), Chávez has adopted the Colombian guerrillas known by the Spanish acronym "FARC" (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) as his revolutionary comrades-in-arms. Although he denies being involved with them, Colombia has provided documents to the Organization of American States that it says detail Chávez's support of guerrillas with deals involving arms, money, and cocaine. Chávez claims that Colombia fabricated the documents, but the preponderance of evidence shows and most responsible Latin American authorities believe that the alliance is a fact.
The FARC is the largest of the Communist guerrilla insurgencies that have plagued Latin America for almost half a century, but in recent years its power and influence have waned. With U.S. aid, the Colombian government has managed in the last decade to reassert control over most of the guerrilla territory. It has disarmed the majority of the right-wing paramilitaries that once patrolled and terrorized the Colombian hillsides. Prosecutors have cracked down on the country's once ubiquitous cocaine cartels, and the FARC has dwindled to about 9,000 guerrillas hidden in the dense jungles along the 1,370-mile border with Venezuela.
Still, the FARC has not disappeared entirely. It may be reduced in number but it enjoys an estimated $300 million of annual income from cocaine smuggling (80 percent of the world's cocaine is processed in Colombia), kidnapping, and extortion. It engages in murder, recruiting of children for warfare, human rights violations, terrorism, and "crimes against humanity," according to Colombia's President Álvaro Uribe. According to reports from among its 2,400 former members, the FARC resembles a mafia crime gang more than a Communist guerrilla army, but Chávez disagrees, calling the FARC, "insurgent forces that have a political project." They "are not terrorists, they are true armies...they must be recognized," Chávez said.
In September 2008, Chávez expelled the U.S. ambassador. In response, the next day the United States accused three high government officials of drug trafficking and providing arms to FARC members, whom it labels as terrorists. For the fourth consecutive year, the U.S. government indicated that Venezuela had not done enough to aid antidrug efforts.
Promoting Anti-American States
Chávez has built an alliance of anti-American states in Latin America and in the Caribbean, called the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas or ALBA which includes Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador in order to augment his power in the western hemisphere and curtail America's. He has propped up Fidel Castro's failing dictatorship with billions in oil subsidies annually since taking power. By its own admission, the alliance is frustrated with the "failure of the neoliberal politics imposed on our countries," and the birth of the alliance places Latin American and Caribbean people "on the road to their second and true independence." The declaration of the alliance laid out the founding principles in "firm rejection of the goals of the FTAA [Free Trade Agreement of the Americas]," and in agreement that the "cardinal principle that should guide [the alliance] is the great solidarity among the people of Latin America and the Caribbean as upheld by Bolívar, Martí, etc."
Chávez met Fidel Castro for the first time in 1994. Chávez had just been released from prison, where he'd been incarcerated after his coup d'état attempt against the democratically elected president of Venezuela on February 4, 1992. From that point on, Castro became Chávez's mentor, strategist, and daily political consultant. Chávez's goals in life are to complete Simón Bolívar's dream to unite Latin America and Castro's dream to communize it.
Castro developed Chávez's strategy in the 1998 campaign for the Venezuelan presidency, and upon Chávez's victory, Castro developed the rewriting of the constitution and inspired the creation of a one-party state and the nationalization of the means of production. Castro also encouraged the militarization of society and the persecution of dissenters and of advocates of democracy. However similar they are, Venezuela is a large mainland country with porous borders and a history of democracy and freedom, whereas Cuba is an island ruled by a slew of dictators. Where Castro is an intellectual who showed he could manage agriculture, health, education, military, and security systems even as Cuba was failing miserably, Chávez is a quixotic if charismatic bloviator who has shown he can't even manage a nation rich in oil reserves.
Chávez, however, is still betting on a post-Castro Cuba, in short, by forging or continuing deals with Fidel's brother and successor, Raúl. They have an oil-for-services deal in which Venezuela ships 92,000 barrels a day to Cuba in exchange for the services of thousands of Cuban doctors in Venezuela's slums and other technical assistance. Venezuelan banks are financing fifty-eight Cuban manufacturing programs and more than a dozen agricultural development programs.
"Since the beginning, both Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez have been determined to move the relationship between their countries beyond the oil-for-doctors swap and toward something that is much broader and has the potential for sweeping regional impact," says Dan Erikson, a Caribbean expert at the Inter-American Dialogue policy group in Washington, D.C. "Raúl Castro is strongly interested in moving beyond an alliance built on personalities by creating sustainable, institutional arrangements, and this has helped to cement the Cuban-Venezuelan relationship."
Chávez is not only sympatico with Cuba but with Russia as well. In July 2008, Chávez made his sixth trip there, to cement relations with Vladimir Putin's handpicked successor, Dmitri Medvedev. Clearly, the two countries see themselves as allies and a countervailing force against the policies of the West.
The two nations agreed to coordinate their actions on the pricing and distribution of oil and gas, which will likely not bode well for their customers looking for free market value. Chávez had a serious interest in making such a deal. At the time of this writing, he was on the verge of buying $1 billion in arms from the Russians. They were expected to include as many as 20 S-300 Thor antiaircraft missile systems and three diesel-powered submarines. Venezuela is currently Russia's largest arms customer, having received in the past some 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles plus assorted fighter jets and helicopters, at a cost of almost $5 billion so far, totaling twelve contracts for weapons purchases between 2005 and 2007. The Russians have promised to jointly explore gas resources in Venezuela and to share nuclear power technology with Chávez as they previously did with Iran. China and Venezuela also agreed to build two oil refineries, one in each country, as a means of reducing Venezuela's dependence on the U. S. market, which still accounts for 60 percent of Venezuelan exports.
Thanks to Putin, and now Medvedev, an oil-for-arms relationship with one of the world's superpowers will ensure that Venezuela is protected from any unexpected insurgencies. In August 2008, as Russia was about to invade Georgia, Chávez appeared in Moscow and offered Venezuelan airfields for refueling Russian bombers armed with nuclear weapons, which recalled the Soviet Union's attempt to build nuclear missile bases in Cuba in 1962. The Russians asked Chávez to withdraw the public invitation so they did not have to respond, and thereby avoided embarrassment on the world political stage.
But in September 2008, the Russians showed no such reticence. In short order, a pair of Russian TU-160 low-range bombers able to carry nuclear weapons landed in Venezuela. Russia also sent a number of ships from their North Sea fleet along with the unequaled nuclear cruiser, Peter the Great, to take part in exercises with the Venezuelan navy later in November of that year. And at the end of a two-day visit by Chávez to Russia that month, the Russian government also confirmed that they were offering a $1 billion loan so that Venezuela could purchase additional arms. A neutral analyst has indicated that the arms purchases were a deliberate attempt by both governments to "import cold-war tensions to the region." Further, the Wall Street Journal called the deployment of Russian ships and planes to the west "unprecedented since the Cold War" and representing a potential increase in tensions between the United States and Russia, especially in the aftermath of the summer 2008 war in Georgia.
Summarizing the emerging ties between Russia and Venezuela, Arthur Herman recently wrote, "These [military] exercises are a stark challenge to U.S. interests in South America and the Carribean...[and] mark a major step in Chávez's bid to become the leading power in the southern Western Hemisphere. They also put the seal on Russia's aggressive re-emergence on the international scene both in Eastern Europe and Asia, and now in the Western Hemisphere."
Developing "Soft" Assets in the United States
Since he was elected, Chávez's public relations machinery has spent close to a billion dollars in the United States to convince Americans that he alone is telling the true story. The appealing narrative spun by Hugo Chávez features a poor, dark-skinned former paratrooper who defied the odds to defeat a predominantly white regime and now fights the prevailing bureaucracies to end poverty, war, and racism. If pressed, Chávez probably would liken himself to Nelson Mandela, though perhaps with a bit more testosterone.
With America's foreign policy on shaky footing, its image abroad at its nadir, and a lame duck leader in the White House, it wasn't hard to find sympathizers within our borders. They included former President Jimmy Carter, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, liberal Democrats such as Senator Chris Dodd (Conn.), Representative Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), and Representative William Delahunt (Mass.). Many of these politicians believe that Chávez is the victim of racism and fear that gripped the United States after the attack of 9/11. Chávez applies his Bush-bashing as a weapon of mass distraction from his ever-growing assault against America. While many might view this rhetoric as adversary politics-as-usual, U.S. Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) had a rational response. When he heard that Chávez called Bush "Satan," he responded, "If there's any criticism of President Bush, it should be restricted to Americans, whether they voted for him or not."
First among the many Americans who have delivered ringing encomiums to Chávez's revolution were African American studies professor Cornel West, the union activist Dolores Huerta, and the leftist organizer Tom Hayden, who along with Jesse Jackson wrote a letter to President Bush on the eve of Venezuela's 2006 presidential election in which they contended that "Since 1999, the citizens of Venezuela have repeatedly voted for a government that unlike others in the past would share their country's oil wealth with millions of poor Venezuelans," a claim that even Chávez's former economic experts disputed.
Second, a string of Hollywood luminaries have been drawn to Chávez's version of his story. Some plan to put it on the big screen. Ed Asner, Danny Glover, Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Naomi Campbell, and a host of others have endorsed Chávez. Loaded with cash and aware of the power of the entertainment industry and the media, Chávez has funded his own film industry in Caracas, where Danny Glover picked up $20 million for a Chávez-inspired film noting parallels between how the French were expunged from Haiti and how Chávez is ridding Venezuela of America's influence.
Third, there are a number of influential Americans who have been attracted by Chávez's money. These include the 1996 Republican vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp, who has reaped large fees trying to sell Chávez's oil to the U.S. government; Tom Boggs, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, D.C.; Giuliani Partners, the lobbying arm of the former New York mayor and presidential hopeful (principal lobbyists for Chávez's CITGO oil company in Texas); former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's Bain Associates, which prospered by handling Chávez's oil and bond interests; and Joseph P. Kennedy II of Massachusetts, who advertises Chávez's oil discounts to low-income Americans, a program that reaches more than a million American families (Kennedy and Chávez cast this program as nonpolitical philanthropy).
The official American response to the threat posed by the Chávez regime has been to ramp up diplomacy in the region. In March 2007, President Bush launched what one White House operative called "a diplomatic counter-attack" to Chávez, visiting five Latin American nations relatively safe from criticism, or so they thought Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.
In Brazil, Bush was met by demonstrations and an editorial headlined "Uncle Scrooge's Paltry Package" in a conservative newspaper. O Estado de São Paulo wrote that the aid Bush was offering to Latin America amounted to "the equivalent of five days' cost of the war in Iraq, and a drop of water compared to the ocean of petrodollars in which Chávez is navigating at full speed." Chávez had also upstaged Bush by firing up a raucous "anti-imperialist" rally in Buenos Aires, where he called Bush a "political cadaver" selling "American hypocrisy and greed. [Bush] thinks he is Columbus discovering poverty after seven years in power."
As we reveal Chávez's inner workings, you will learn what many Venezuelans and other Latin Americans already have discovered: he is a charismatic, formidable leader; he understands the use of well-placed propaganda; he knows how to adeptly cultivate and manipulate allies; he rules with absolute authority. And when you deconstruct the man in some detail, you come to realize that he is a looming threat to the liberties we in America and other countries in the free world cling to with such fervor. Copyright © 2009 by Douglas Schoen
Meet the Author
Douglas E. Schoen has been a consultant for the Democratic Party for the past thirty years. A founding partner of Penn, Schoen, and Berland Associates, Inc., he was former President Bill Clinton's research and strategic consultant during the 1996 reelection campaign and has worked for major corporations and nineteen heads of state around the world, including Silvio Berlusconi, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ehud Barak. He is the author of five books.
Michael Rowan has a long history as a successful political consultant both here and in Venezuela and also as a newspaper columnist in Latin America. In the United States he has advised winning candidates in twenty-six states; he has also advised presidential and other candidates in thirteen foreign countries, including Governor Manuel Rosales of Venezuela, former President Jaime Paz Zamora of Bolivia, and President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica.
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