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ICG Risk Blog - [ The road to ALBA, the "Cubanization" of Venezuela ]

The road to ALBA, the "Cubanization" of Venezuela


Part 1

Cubans began arriving en masse in Venezuela soon after Chávez assumed office in 1999. By 2001 Chavez was employing Cuban assets in intelligence, internal security and political matters to the point that claims were made that the "Cubanization of Venezuela" had commenced. (Cuba's backing of a guerrilla insurgency against Venezuela in the 1960s left many current and former FAN military believing that Cubans had returned to the same venue by different means.)

Although Chavez denied the presence of Cuban assets, the US suspended long established intel-sharing arrangements with Venezuela's interior and political police. Having already gelded the Supreme Court and the National Assembly, a unicameral legislature established through Chavez's constitutional reforms, Chavez was co-opting the serving military by making them a major beneficiary of his administration, and worked his political base by launching "Bolivarian Circles," a grassroots political group ostensibly "to defend the Bolivarian revolution against the counter-revolution," on the advice of Castro in 2000.

Chavez assumed correctly that the US would not interfere so long as Venezuela sent oil north and did not interfere with Plan Colombia, the U.S.-supported coca eradication and paramilitary interdiction in Columbia (against the FARC, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and elsewhere.

Cuban-backed and staffed programs called misión barrio adentro, or mission inside the neighborhood, in urban gardening, literacy training, and medical care to the poor were demonstrably solidifying Chávez's stature among its impoverished citizens. Accounts vary but it appears that overt political training was omitted in this grassroots effort to bolster Chavez in a possible recall referendum. "Overwhelmingly anti-Chávez," Venezuelan media commented on the downsides to these Cuban efforts, not the least of which was the insertion of Cuban paramilitary and intelligence assets, all to no effect upon the Venezuelan poor.

A useful survey on the backdrop of the linking of race to poverty among indigenous Indians, mestizos, and blacks in populist Latin American politics, of which Chavez is one of the best practitioners, is Latin America: Racial Revolt in the Making, mirrored here. In a private note of Nov 2003 about this survey, I observed:

Bolivia's domino falls on Ecuador as racially based popular revolts by indigenous peasant and impoverished groups start spreading throughout Latin America. Four South American presidents have been toppled in the past four years. Further forced regime changes are likely, endangering U.S. economic and security interests in several countries.

It is interesting to note that there is almost no public notice in the US of al Qaeda cells operating in several Latin American countries among expatriate Muslim communities. There is also little public awareness of an interrogated al Qaeda suspect noting that operatives in "countries adjoining the US" [seeking]to hijack inbound freight aircraft and then use them as missiles against high value targets. If larger parts of Latin America fall out of their government's hands it will duplicate areas of Africa that are imploding due to AIDS depopulation. All make very effective training grounds far from the eyes of US agencies. (Witness the three-year old insurgent training camp for Indonesian militants in Mindanao in the Philippines which both the US and Philippine governments did not know existed until a group member was captured.)

By 2002, Chavez's domestic situation has worsened:

"Just three years into his presidency, Chavez's combative rhetoric had alienated virtually every sector of Venezuelan society with his attacks on the news media and Roman Catholic Church leaders, his refusal to consult with business leaders, and his failed attempt to assert control over labor groups. Chavez's government also inherited a staggering $21 billion in back wages and pensions owed workers by previous administrations... [Suspected] ties to Colombia's leftist guerrillas angered many in the military and abroad.

A short-lived coup was carried out by the entire military high command against Chavez in April 2002 on the heels of a massive anti-Chavez protest and strike organized by the Venezuelan Workers Confederation and the business association Fedecamaras (in support of a strike by the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela) in which Chavez "ordered National Guard troops and civilian gunmen, including rooftop snipers, to stop the marchers from reaching the palace":

Rooftop snipers and Chavez supporters repeatedly fired upon the protesters and even ambulance crews trying to evacuate the wounded. As the bloodbath unfolded, Chavez ordered five Caracas television stations off the air -- charging they were inciting violence. Most Venezuelans were denied images of "Chavistas" repeatedly firing on unarmed protesters, bodies lying in pools of blood on the streets, and hooded thugs attacking police until after the military rebelled.

part 3

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Strategic Risk Public  Terrorism Public  


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