THE SPINE APRIL 4, 2010
Venezuela is another one of those socialist nightmare/dream fantasies. While the tyranny may be Latin-lackadaisical, the slow but certain shutdown of centers of dissent goes on--and soon there will be nothing else to close. Except for the fact that there is a certain popular resilience to the tricks the dictator learned from Comrade Castro. Given that Hugo Chavez has had to resort to the usual tricks of southern hemisphere totalitarianism--cheerily false statistics, for example, that are finally proven wrong by life on the street--he has also mustered the cheap-and-easy politics of anti-Americanism to muster the crowd. Last year in TNR, Enrique Krauze wrote a serious and sober essay on Chavez that has put the despot in a new and inescapable perspective.
Despite President Obama's courtship of Tehran, in this world the most effective earnest of taunting the United States is to make an alliance with Iran. I've written about the dangerous link between Dr. A'jad and Chavez here, and others have also made the argument in TNR. In any case, Iran may or may not yet have the bomb. But it is a marketer or transfer agent of nuclear equipment, rather like North Korea and Dr. Khan, the widely acclaimed criminal-hero of Pakistan.
So now that Chavez' oil riches have failed him in providing sufficient electric power to his own country, he has embarked on ways to divert the people's attention from the grim reality. Vladimir Putin to the rescue. A substantial AP dispatch by Fabiola Sanchez in Yahoo! News recounts Prime Minister Putin's visit to Caracas on Friday. Russian and Venezuelan officials have begun discussions about Caracas setting up its own space industry, including a satellite launcher and factory. In addition:
Chavez' government has already bought more than $4 billion in Russian weapons since 2005, including helicopters, fighter jets and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles. Chavez said last year that Russia agreed to loan Venezuela up to $2.2 billion for additional arms deals.
"We aren't going to make an atomic bomb," said el presidente, "but we are going to develop atomic energy with peaceful aims." Beware Colombia!
In any case, why is Russia wreaking havoc with a fragile and still poor part of the world? One honest Moscow analyst explains that, although Obama had promised to "reset" relations between the two countries, "the Americans haven't compromised on any significant issue..." Well, it all depends on what you think significant.
I yearn for the Monroe Doctrine. There has been no news about whether the deal made between former Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy (in my district, by the way) and Chavez to sell oil from CITGO, a wholly owned subsidiary of the national oil company of Venezuela, to poor Bay State residents will be sustained. Over the last two years, CITGO has donated some 85 million gallons of oil to Citizen Energy, the private firm which Joe runs and from which he receives in salary (at last report in 2007) $575,000 annually.