by Austin Bay
July 20, 2010
Hugo Chavez's Venezuelan revolution has become a bitter
joke. His nation's economy is collapsing. His archrivals in neighboring
Colombia just held a legitimate national election that strengthened their hand
against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist drug
army Chavez backs. This week, the Organization of American States (OAS) will
convene to consider Colombia's evidence. The Colombian military reportedly has
the grid co-ordinates of FARC camps inside Venezuela.
Though the former right-wing paratrooper remains a darling
of the international political left, Venezuelans know Chavez is responsible for
their current economic and political nightmare. The dictator has squandered
Venezuela's oil windfall and enriched his political cronies.
So Chavez rattles sabers and threatens war in order to
divert increasing domestic opposition. At the moment, Colombia isn't his
primary target -- its military is too strong. The Caribbean island of Curacao,
however, lying just off the Venezuelan coast, provides Chavez with a convenient
enemy both geographically and politically.
Thus far the bully's threats have been gunboat hype and
showboat hoopla. The question is, will bluster give way to bombs? An
expansionary ideology propels Chavez, one that inflates his already explosive
ego. He bills himself as the new Simon Bolivar, who will reunite the South
American continent while cowing the United States and other imperialists --
like the Dutch.
Which is where Curacao enters Hugo's gunsights. Though the
Dutch West Indies no longer formerly exists as a political entity, Holland
retains responsibility for Curacao's defense and other foreign policy-related
Chavez uses the term "Chavismo" (think Fidel
Castro's "Fidelismo") to describe his political concoction of
populism, machismo, socialism and caudilloism. Chavismo's most potent
international media tool, however, is relentless anti-Americanism. Curacao,
which currently hosts a U.S. base for drug interdiction efforts, is thus a
diplomatic two-fer for attacking alleged European and Yankee imperialists.
Recently, he accused the U.S. of planning an attack on
Venezuelan using the base at Curacao.
Why take his latest threats seriously? Though Chavez is
clearly playing to a domestic audience by hyping a Yankee invasion, political
change is occurring in several former Dutch Caribbean colonies. Curacao wants
greater autonomy, similar to Holland's arrangements with Aruba, another island
near Venezuela. The new political arrangements are supposed to take effect in
Where there is change there is uncertainty. Chavez dreams of
establishing a new "Bolivarian state" in South America composed of
Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, parts of Peru, Bolivia and Guyana, and the old
Dutch West Indies. Colombia, the U.S. and, yes, Brazil frustrate the creation
of this super-state on the mainland, but gobbling a small island may be
possible, especially if he finances a pro-Venezuelan fifth column.
A border war to recover allegedly lost territory is a
classic tyrant's tactic. In 1982, the Argentine military regime saw its grip on
power in Buenos Aires slipping, so it invaded the Malvinas Islands (the
Falklands). However, that gambit failed when the Royal Navy and British Army
counterattacked. Following a swift and embarrassing defeat, the Argentine
An expanse of open sea separated the Falklands from
Argentina. In a February 2007 article, StrategyPage.com concluded geographic
proximity, oil power and military hardware give Venezuela a huge advantage over
Dutch defenses in the Caribbean. StrategyPage said Venezuela could take the
nearby islands, and the Dutch "lack the ability to retake the islands on
their own should the "Greater Venezuela" rhetoric from the Venezuelan
dictator turn out to be for real."
Holland provides a useful rhetorical enemy, but the U.S. and
Great Britain, Holland's NATO allies, are formidable foes. A U.S. carrier group
and a few U.S. and Royal Marine battalions would crush Chavez's invaders.
However, Curacao's most precious economic asset, its refinery, would likely
burn -- a smoking disaster reminiscent of Kuwait's oil fields torched by
Saddam's fleeing forces in 1991.
To counterattack, however, would mean American leaders are
willing to ignore the condemnations of Chavez's fellow anti-American
sympathizers in Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Chavez, when he
rattled sabers in 2007, knew President George W. Bush would respond vigorously
to an actual attack. The cowboy would pull his gun. President Barack Obama,
however, portrays himself as the anti-Bush. Does the desperate dictator see an