Almost a year ago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez told President Obama, “I want to be your friend.” Today the much-photographed handshake at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad has become a cold shoulder. Sadly like much of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, relations with arch-anti-American Hugo Chavez have fallen well short of expectations. Good intentions, positive gestures, and, a little naïveté has not stopped Hugo Chavez from pursuing his mission to consolidate authoritarian rule in Venezuela and undermine U.S. leadership and influence in the Americas.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to Caracas on April 2 is designed to show that Russia is once again a strategic player in the Americas. It highlights the fact that Putin and Chavez share common objectives. They are united in hostility toward the U.S. and aim to trim U.S. global influence for democracy, economic freedom, and stable security.
The two countries enjoy an increasingly cozy buyer-seller relationship in advanced arms. Russia has sold billions of dollars worth of sophisticated arms to Venezuela. AK-47s, attack jets, tanks, armored personnel carrier, S-300 missile systems, and surface-to-air missiles have fattened Chavez’s arsenals and helped ignite a regional arms race. More are on the way. Finally, as major oil and gas producers, Chavez and Putin want to exploit the energy vulnerabilities of Western importers in order to keep prices high and drain off the resources needed to sustain their political and military ambitions.
While in Caracas, Putin is also scheduled to meet with Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
Some in Moscow and elsewhere might find it cruelly ironic that in the aftermath of the Moscow subway bombings, Putin still agrees to meet with a terror-friendly leader who has praised the career of Carlos “The Jackal” Ramirez, supported the narco-terrorism of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and stands on intimate terms with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.
While most Americans find these growing Russian-Venezuelan ties troublesome, the Department of State and the Obama Administration have adopted a rather relaxed attitude.
When asked if the arms build-up in Venezuela was cause for concern, acting press spokesman Mark Toner answered “I think we’ve voiced our concerns, if you will, but our opinions about Venezuela’s need for these kinds of defense systems previously from the podium. Beyond that, Venezuela, Bolivia, any country, is entitled to pursue its own bilateral relationship with any other country, clearly.
Perhaps Congress and the American need to take a closer look at the Obama Administration’s laissez-faire, perhaps negligent, approach to security issues in the region.