Potential Hot Spots: March 27, 2005

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Venezuela is having problems with the loyalty of its armed forces. The current government is run by a former army officer Hugo Chavez. Normally, that would not be a problem. But Chavez sees himself as another Fidel Castro. That is, the rebel Castro before he proclaimed himself a hard core communist. Chavez wants social revolution in Venezuela, but many, perhaps a majority, of Venezuelans dont want to be another Cuba. While Venezuela's oil wealth has not been distributed equally, it has created a large middle class. This includes the military. Many of the troops are nervous about Chavez, and his social programs. Even some of Chavezs military decisions have caused unease among officers and troops. For example, Chavez is now buying military equipment from Russia. This includes helicopters (nine Mi-17s and one Mi-26) for the navy. The navy considers these helicopters unsuitable for naval use. The sailors are correct, but the price is cheap, and Chavez wants to make a political point. 

The army is unhappy about the cozy relationship between Chavez and leftist rebel groups in neighboring Colombia. Venezuelan troops have been operating more aggressively along the Colombian border. This is officially a crackdown on the smugglers who always have operated there. But the Venezuelan troops are accused to really going after the Colombian rebels, or supporting them. Take your pick. No one is sure exactly what is going on.

To top it all off, Chavez is now organizing a new army, one loyal to him personally. This is part of his plan create "Bolivarian Circles of Venezuela Frontline Defense for National Democratic Revolution." These are political clubs all over the country, particularly in poor areas, where Chavez has the most support. Chavez expects to have 2.2 million members, who will be the backbone of the democratic revolution unfolding in Venezuela." What upsets the armed forces is Chavezs decision to pass out infantry weapons to these political clubs, so that his new political clubs can use force to defend the revolution. There are believed to be Cuban advisors involved in this effort. This sort of mass organization has been used before in Latin America, by both leftist and rightist dictators (pro-fascist Juan Peron of Argentina, and communist Fidel Castro of Cuba.) But by passing out guns to his most dedicated followers, Chavez is angering the military, making the middle class even more nervous, and setting the stage for a bloody civil war.

 

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