Leadership: Rumblings in Venezuela


July 2, 2006: Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's weapons buying spree, and his attempts to create a "Bolivarian" defense strategy, is having a deleterious effect of the efficiency of the armed forces. Despite Chavez's efforts to "Bolivarianize" (introduce "radical and revolutionary" concepts) the armed forces, many officers are trying to maintain professional standards. Naturally, active military officers are reluctant to speak out. But retired ones are beginning to do so. At least one prominent retired former very senior officer has pointed out that the armed forces cannot absorb much of the new equipment. For example, while the government has purchased 24 Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighters, the Venezuelan Air Force lacks the experience, training, and equipment necessary to service and maintain the aircraft. Similarly, the recent purchase of 100,000 AK-series assault rifles, came at a time when the Venezuelan Army had just begun to introduce a totally different weapon.

In addition, many of Chavez's "military reforms" are mere window dressing. A recent "expansion" of the Army's frontier forces by the creation of two "new" brigades, for example, was actually merely the regrouping of some existing units under new designations.

Meanwhile, Chavez has been seeing his willingness to interfere in the internal affairs of other Latin American countries backfire. A recent conference of the defense ministers of the "Andean Republics" (i.e., Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia), resulted in a joint communiqué that came down so firmly against foreign interference in internal affairs that the Venezuelan delegate refused to sign. And then the candidate in the Peruvian presidential elections that Chavez favored, with remarkably rude statements, went down to humiliating defeat. As a result, Chavez has apparently decided to tone down his support for like-minded political candidates in other Latin American countries. This will probably not last long. Described by the decidedly left-wing journal Mother Jones as having a strong inclination to "bloviate" at the drop of a hat, Chavez is unlikely to be able to keep his mouth shut for long, which will only continue to turn off patriotic voters in other countries.


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