In an interview with a popular Miami TV station, President Obama was asked yesterday about the danger Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez poses to U.S. security. The President responded: “My sense is that what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.”
The comment instantly raised red flags among those following the real situation in Venezuela. When it comes to Chavez and Venezuela, it appears the President has been skipping over the pages in the daily intelligence brief devoted to Chavez, Venezuela, and Latin America.
Otherwise, he might have mentioned a few of the following:
- Iran. Venezuela’s military and security relations with Iran show no sign of diminishing; drones, military exchanges, preparation for asymmetric warfare are a few milestones of the anti-American Axis of Unity. In May 2011, the U.S. sanctioned Venezuela’s national oil company PDVSA. Many believe that this was just the tip of the iceberg.
- Syria. Chavez backs Syria’s murderous Bashar al-Assad to the hilt.
- Cuba. Chavez’s aid to Cuba’s Castro regime (nominally in exchange for doctors and intelligence personnel) exceeds $5 billion annually—more than double the U.S. assistance budget for all of Latin America—and enables the communist regime to survive and to repress the Cuban people.
- A terrorist haven. Chavez has rolled out the welcome mat to a host of terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and the Basque ETA.
- A mafia state. Moises Naim writes that “senior Venezuelan government officials double as the heads of important transnational criminal gangs.” The U.S. described Chavez’s defense minister, General Henry Rangel Silva, as a drug kingpin in 2008.
- Higher gas prices. In OPEC, Chavez is a price hawk; he is mismanaging PDVSA—reducing global supply—and expropriates billions from U.S. companies, raising costs to U.S. consumers.
- Narco-terrorism in Colombia. Chavez identifies with and supports the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, whose leader, Timochenko, is believed to operate from a safe haven in Venezuela. Since 1999, the U.S. has invested $7 billion in Colombian democracy and security; Chavez prefers a Colombia ruled by narco-terrorists.
- Militarizing Venezuela. From Russian arms purchases to arming militias, Chavez militarizes Venezuelan society, threatens civil war, and endangers regional security.
- Corruption. With aid packages, oil deals, and cash-filled suitcases, Chavez corrupts freely and widely.
- Destabilization. Chavez backs left-wing leaders and destabilizes weak democracies, as he did in Honduras in 2009 and in Paraguay in 2012.
The above are 10 good reasons for taking Chavez and Venezuela seriously, and they are more than ample reason to up the U.S. security game by outlining an Iran strategy and placing Venezuela on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.