Lately the blogosphere that specializes in terrorism, drug trafficking, security, 4GW, Mexico, etc. has been focusing more than it usually does on the Mexican government’s war against increasingly violent drug cartels.
Gringo think tanks and dead tree news media also have been beating the drums about Mexico, predicting or refuting that it’s a failing state, parsing blame between the Mexicans and Gringos, and warning about the spillover of violence into the United States.
Oh My God! Almost 6,000 killed in Mexico’s drug wars last year! President Barack Obama had better deploy US troops immediately to seal the border with Mexico!
Some of the excitement is understandable, given that Mexico and the US are forever fused together by geography, demography, trade, etc. Some of the interest is being stoked by companies that make a living selling specialized security and intelligence analysis. More power to them.
But all the noise about Mexico’s drug wars is a bit analogous to shutting the barn door after the livestock has escaped. Mexico’s drug cartels have been at war with the Mexican state since at least the 1980s, thanks to US drug policy.
Some critics argue that it’s never been worse than today. In some respects that’s an accurate assessment. But for intelligence and security analysts operating way south of Mexico, like Caracas, all the noise about Mexico resonating north of the Rio Bravo seems a a bit off the mark.
A much greater threat to US national security has been evolving for the past decade in Venezuela, where the increasingly dictatorial-minded regime of President Hugo Chavez is the hemispheric hub for the rapid expansion regionally of new state and non-state actors which share a common desire to weaken the United States, liberal democracy and western capitalism.
The strategic alliance between Chavez and Fidel Castro, initiated in December 1994 when Chavez visited Havana for the first time and formally constituted in 2000, Chavez’s second year as president of Venezuela, has facilitated the entry into Latin America of the People’s Republic of China, Iran, and more recently Russia.
North Korea, aka the hermit kingdom, also has expanded its presence in Latin America quietly through a strategic alliance with the Chavez regime which has been deepening since Pyongyang established an embassy in Caracas in 2006.
During the decade Chavez has been in power, non-state actors like the FARC and ELN of Colombia, European militant groups like the IRA and ETA, and Islamic militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, among others, also have established a presence in Venezuela.
IRA and ETA, which have longtime links with the Cuban regime in Havana, travel in/out of Venezuela via Cuba. Islamic militants – like Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. – use commercial air routes between Caracas, Tehran and Damascus.
Some local independent intelligence analysts also believe that radical Islamic activists loosely associated with militant groups possibly tied to al Qaeda have established a presence in Venezuelan territory over the past six or seven years.
International ethnic organized crime groups also known to be operating in Venezuelan include several Chinese triads, Russian mafiya, Neapolitan ‘camorristas,’ and Spanish, Brazilian, Mexican and several West African crime groups. Their core “business” in Venezuela is narcotics smuggling, the illegal arms trade, and money laundering.
President Chavez routinely reaffirms that the United States is the greatest enemy of Venezuela, and the greatest evil in the world. He is on record, literally hundreds of times in the past decade, as saying that he wants to destroy the US Empire, destroy US capitalism, bring the US to its knees, etc.
Chavez and Cuba: Since 2000, Chavez has been supplying Cuba with up to 100,000 b/d of oil, practically free, plus other economic support which by some estimates currently totals over $5 billion annually. Fidel Castro said before the 15 February referendum that it was “absolutely vital” for the Cuban revolution that Chavez be the winner.
In June 2005 Venezuela’s defense ministry and armed forces officially adopted Cuba’s core national security doctrine as Venezuela’s new security doctrine. Caracas and Havana have a mutual defense pact in place against any “external aggression,” and officially Venezuela’s top external security threats are the Us and Colombia.
Today there are about 50,000 Cubans in Venezuela on official missions, and many more are coming soon if Chavez is serious about importing Cuban “peasants” to farm the undeveloped lands of the Orinoco River basin. Cuban military and security advisers are working in the Defense Ministry, armed forces, National Guard, military intelligence (DIM) and the Interior & Justice Ministry’s political police (Disip).
There are also Cuban advisers working out of the public eye at Onidex (passports, identity cards, migration); the Registro Nacional (where all property ownership documents, corporate statutes of all companies, etc. must be registered); at the Education, Communications, Planning, and Economic & Finance Ministries; and CANTV. Joint state-owned Venezuelan-Cuban companies soon will be operating in the seaports which the regime seized practically at gunpoint in March.
Venezuelan and Cuban political and security advisers are also known to be working in Bolivia to support the government of President Evo Morales. Chavez also has donated hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to Morales for payments to his civilian and military supporters in that country.
Venezuelan/Cuban advisers also are working with Bolivian indigenous activists to fan the flames of future revolution in Peru’s indigenous highlands bordering Bolivia, overtly through the Casas del Alba, and covertly by training Peruvian indigenous militants in Bolivian territory, according to reports from intelligence sources in Lima.
Chavez and China: On 24 December 2004 president Chavez announced from Beijing that Venezuela’s oil reserves were completely at the service of China’s economic development needs for generations to come. Chavez also said he would reduce Venezuelan oil exports to US, if possible completely breaking Venezuela’s “supply dependency” on the Gringo Empire, and would redirect those exports to China.
Since 2005, Chavez has signed dozens of energy, trade, communications and security agreements with China worth close to $50 billion through 2013, at least on paper. These agreements include promised joint ventures between Pdvsa-CNPC and other Chinese state-owned oil companies to develop up to 1.2 million b/d of extra-heavy crude production capacity in the Orinoco oil belt, build new upgrading capacity totaling at least 600,000 b/d, building three or four refineries in China with a combined capacity of up to 1 million b/d, creating an international oil shipping company, and forming joint ventures to manufacture oil equipment and provide oil services.
Venezuela and China also have a $12 billion joint infrastructure fund originally created in 2007 with an initial capitalization of $6 billion, of which $2 billion came from Fonden, and $4 billion was a loan from China payable over three years with oil. Last September Chavez reached an agreement with Beijing to double the fund’s capitalization to $12 billion, with China lending $8 billion overall, payable in oil.
But oil is just the iceberg’s tip. Chavez also has offered Chinese companies preferred access to other Venezuelan resources including natural gas, iron/steel, bauxite/alumina, coal, gold and diamonds, and rare earths mining. And now that Chavez has seized control of all the ports, it’s possible that in the coming socialist “reorganization” of these ports, Chinese companies like Hutchison Whampoa, which has ties to the PLA, could win Bolivarian contracts.
Chavez also is starting to buy weapons from China, which already was a substantial supplier of military-grade equipment to Venezuela (uniforms, boots, etc.). Items on order include 18 K-8 trainer jets, which Sudan’s genocidal leader Omar al Bashir has used as ground attack aircraft in Darfur with devastating impact.
While Chavez has not publicly offered China’s military the possibility of using Venezuelan seaports and airports, his strategic alliance with Beijing is facilitating China’s global security strategy of responding to what it perceives as US encirclement of China in Asia with a Chinese “counter-encirclement” of the US in the Americas.
Chavez and Iran: Good diplomatic relations existed between Venezuela and Iran back in the 1970s/early 80s, long before Chavez and Ahmadinejad were elected presidents of their respective countries. Oil was always the core shared interest of the Venezuela-Iranian diplomatic relationship. But under Chavez-Ahmadinejad, the strategic alliance is virulently anti-US and anti-Israel. Chavez defends the Iranian nuclear development program, Tehran’s official position on Israel, and has even warned in the past that he would deploy Venezuelan troops to Iran to help defend against any external (ie US) aggression.
Last week Chavez visited Tehran to announce a new “ten-year strategic alliance” with Iran. Chavez-Ahmadinejad also jointly announced that “US capitalism” must be erased permanently and replaced by a new world order – which of course would be fascism since fascism is the quasi-religion which binds the Socialist Bolivarian and the Iranian Islamic revolutions.
Venezuela’s state-owned Conviasa airlines helps Tehran circumvent UN bans on the sale of missile-related technologies via Conviasa’s commercial air routes between Caracas-Tehran-Damascus. The Caracas-Tehran alliance also has facilitated the movement to Venezuela of Hezbollah militants.
Chavez and Russia: Since 2005 Venezuela has purchased and ordered over $6 billion worth of weapons including 100,000 AK-103/104 assault rifles plus a license to produce in Venezuela another 50,000 AF-103/104 assault rifles per year, transport and attack helicopters, fixed wing transport aircraft, and Sukhoi-30 fighters. Chavez also wants to buy Russian-made submarines, TOR M-1 air defense missile systems, shore-fired anti-ship missiles, armored fighting vehicles, battle tanks, and more attack helicopters and Sukhoi aircraft. But for now, low oil prices have crimped his shopping plans, and the Medvedev/Putin regime can’t afford to extend any credit to Chavez. So new weapons buys are on hold.
However, Chavez also has invited Russia’s regime, repeatedly, to use Venezuelan air bases and seaports for Russia’s global military operations. Last September Russian news media also reported Chavez had invited Medvedev/Putin to base Russian troops in Venezuela, but Chavez immediately denied the reports. But it’s a fact that the Russian military presence has increased, particularly since 2008 when Chavez steadfastly defended Moscow’s separatist military adventurism in Georgia. The Russian military presence in Venezuela is increasing, which is only natural given the Chavez regime’s security and energy policies. Dozens of mechanics, avionics, computer and weapons systems technicians are working in Venezuela to maintain the helicopters and aircraft Chavez has acquired, and train Venezuelan personnel in these areas. Increasingly, Venezuelan military personnel, particularly officers and elite special troops of all branches of the armed forces, also are training in Russia.
Commerce is one of Moscow’s chief motivations in deepening strategic ties with the Chavez regime. Chavez has been one of the top buyers of Russian weapons worldwide in recent years. And Russian oil companies have been guaranteed preferred access to oil and gas projects in Venezuela. Russian companies reportedly also are looking at major Venezuelan investment ventures in gold, diamonds, aluminum, transportation, and tourism, among other sectors.
But the Medvedev/Putin regime also wants to build a robust military/security alliance with the Chavez regime, and revive Russian-Cuban relations.
A brief digression: China has fostered strong security, economic and political relations with Cuba since the end of the Cold War. When Moscow pulled out, Beijing seized the opportunity – slowly at first by western standards, but very quickly from a Chinese perspective. It’s a given, among intelligence analysts in Brazil and Mexico, that after the Soviet Union collapsed, China’s intelligence services inherited the KGB’s clandestine networks in Latin America, including Venezuela and Mexico.
Medvedev also has explicitly agreed to help the chavez build a native nuclear research and development program. Chavez also is believed to have agreements nuclear development assistance agreements in place with Tehran.
Strategically, Moscow is pursuing its own “counter-encirclement” of the US in the Americas (and Middle East – Central Asia), as part of a broader global effort to push back against the eastward expansion of NATO towards Russia, and thwart US plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Almost nothing is known about the Hermit Kingdom’s activities in Venezuela, but North Korea’s main exports are missile technology and illegal drugs like heroin and methamphetamine.
Whenever a reporter asks a Pentagon spokesman about the expanding Russian (or Chinese) presence in Latin America, the response is usually dismissive. Officially, the Pentagon doesn’t appear to perceive any threats to US national security in Latin America, except of course the endless drug war.
But viewed from Caracas, the trend is worrisome. The Chavez regime openly supports – and protects in Venezuela – narco-Marxist militant groups like the FARC and ELN. Illegal narcotics are flowing massively from Colombia to Venezuela, which is a distribution hub for drug shipments to Mexico, the US, Canada, the Caribbean (via Haiti/Dominican Republic & Puerto Rico), the Eurozone (via Spain, Portugal, Italy, Netherlands), and increasingly to West Africa.
Interior & Justice Minister Tarek al Assaimi, of Iraqi Baathist ascendancy, says no country is doing more to fight drug trafficking than Venezuela, where over 11 metric tons of illegal narcotics have been seized in recent months. But international agencies which monitor the illegal narcotics trade say at least 250 metric tons per year of cocaine were being transported via Venezuela as recently as 2007, up from 50 metric tons per year in 2002.
Many of the international drug distribution networks running drugs through Venezuela also can be used to move weapons and people. To what extent might this be happening? US sources tell Caracas Gringo there’s no way of knowing for sure, because US intelligence on the Chavez regime’s various overt/covert political, terrorist and criminal alliances is not very good (which, for longtime Caracas-based observers, comes as no surprise).
But a lot of the cocaine (and heroin) manufactured in Colombia is being exported to the US via Venezuela to Mexico, where the drug cartel wars killed close to 6,000 people last year. The Chavez regime’s tacit and/or implicit strategic alliances with the FARC and other non-state actors which profit from illegal narcotics undoubtedly facilitate the drug shipments that eventually transit through Mexico to the US, regardless of what officials like al Assaimi claim with respect to the Bolivarian revolution’s homegrown war on drugs.
Call this the indirect covert component of the Bolivarian revolution’s regional spread, and an effective if not necessarily deliberate (though we wonder) 4GW tactic to destabilize the US via Mexico, a process which also benefits the long-term strategic interests of new state actors in the region like China and Russia.
Meanwhile, Chavez is overtly focused on undermining US interests everywhere in the Americas (and the world). In fairness, though, the US has clumsily helped Chavez a great deal. Chavez’s performance at the hastily scheduled ALBA summit of 14-15 April in Venezuela will provide some indication of how Chavez likely will behave at the 17-18 April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad & Tobago, where he expects to cross paths for the first time with US President Barack Obama.
Chavez said this week during his tour of Tehran, Tokyo and Beijing that he wants to “re-set” relations with the Obama administration and be friends. But friendship isn’t Chavez’s style, especially not with the Gringo Empire. A pillar of Chavez’s foreign policy is permanent hostility and confrontation with the US. Where Chavez’s hatred of the US will lead him and Venezuela eventually cannot be foretold, but clearly he will continue working to weaken and undermine US interests at every opportunity. Is Mexico such an opportunity?