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What Do We Do about Venezuela?


Twelve Republican senators, led by John Ensign (R., Nev.) and George LeMieux (R., Fla.), answered this question in a sharp letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Add Hugo Chávez’s lawless regime to the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, they told her, or come up with an awfully good set of reasons for why that is not the way to go.

My Heritage Foundation colleague and Latin America expert Ray Walser explains:

Over a year ago, President Obama and Hugo Chavez embraced at the Summit of the Americas, and Chavez declared, “I want to be your friend.” Since then, the administration has been remarkably mute about Venezuela’s authoritarian strongman. And that has quite a few seasoned Venezuela watchers worried.

A growing body of diplomats, strategists, military and security analysts in the Western Hemisphere are concerned about the threats to security and democracy posed by Chavez. They fear the Obama administration has a blind spot when it comes to dealing with Chavez.

Indeed, the senators recount a growing pattern of activities either condoned or supported by Chávez that are highly detrimental to the security of the U.S. and other democracies in the Americas. The list of grievances includes:

● support for the narco-terrorists of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); 

● massive drug trafficking that transits Venezuela bound for West Africa, Europe and the U.S.; 

● deepening ties to Middle Eastern terrorist groups such as Hezbollah; and 

● secretive and expanding ties with Iran — nuclear, military, financial and otherwise.

The senators ask Secretary Clinton an important and long-overdue question: Is the Obama administration prepared to do something about the Chávez threat? As Walser explains, Obama’s cool and detached demeanor with respect to Venezuela is nothing new:

The administration failed to acknowledge the not-so-hand-hidden of Chavez in Honduras when former President Manuel Zelaya made a bid for an unconstitutional second term. It has kept silent while Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, a reprehensible Chavez client, undermines democracy in his country. Key officials such as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Southern Command’s chief, Gen. Douglas Fraser, have shortsightedly downplayed the Chavez-FARC link and his Iran alliance.

The White House, Walser says, seems incapable of recognizing that Chávez’s behavior is rooted in “his deep and abiding anti-Americanism.” Indeed, Walser notes, “Chavez actively courts any world leader, nation or group that opposes American values and leadership. He routinely portrays the U.S. as the greatest force of evil on the planet. He preaches a post-American, multi-polar world, where China, Russia and Iran whittle the ’imperial’ U.S. down to size. And in the Americas, Chavez aims to stand the Monroe Doctrine on its head by excluding U.S. influence and interests.”

Of course, a leader can be staunchly anti-American without supporting terrorism. Does Chávez cross the line? Here’s how the senators frame the issue in summarizing their four-page letter:

The State Department currently designates four nations – Syria, Cuba, Sudan, and Iran – as state sponsors of terrorism. These countries provide ideological support and material assistance to terrorist groups. Once you consider the evidence behind Venezuela’s substantial ties with U.S.-designated terrorist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism, we would like to know the strategic implications of designating Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism. We would also like to know the implications for the integrity of this list if Venezuela continues to evade designation. . . .

Given that Chavez is expected to receive a $20 billion loan from the Chinese Government and his government has just signed yet another multi-billion dollar arms deal with Russia for weapons that far exceed any rational analysis of Venezuela’s national defense requirements – it is clear that this is the time to revisit our policies within the region…


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