President Hugo Chavez is responsible for the political crisis in Honduras.
But Chavez had lots of help.
The United States has misjudged, under-estimated and generally dropped the ball on Hugo Chavez for over a decade.
Chavez also bought off the Organization of American States years ago. PetroCaribe turned the small Caribbean states (i.e. Caricom) into Chavez’s obedient puppies at the OAS.
Current OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza is so firmly aligned with Chavez that somewhere in the world he must have a Bolivarian bank account.
Until he was sidelined by the US, Insulza’s behavior was so aggressive, arrogant and biased against the new democratically appointed interim government in Tegucigalpa that his marching orders must have been coming from Chavez.
Individually, the democracies of Latin America have stayed quiet while Chavez intruded into the sovereign affairs of many countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru, among others.
Cheap Venezuelan oil apparently has transformed all democratic governments from Washington, DC to Tierra del Fuego into round-heeled whores.
Of course, there are some notable exceptions, like Colombia, Peru, Panama and Honduras.
Colombia’s democracy has been under permanent attack by Chavez since he assumed the presidency of Venezuela at the start of 1999.
Chavez has been a strategic/political ally of the FARC since a few months after he was released from Yare prison in 1994 by President Rafael Caldera. The alliance was made at Chavez’s meetings with FARC leaders in Colombia in 1994-1995 – at least four years before he was elected president of Venezuela. Ramon Rodriguez Chacin accompanied Chavez at those meetings with FARC leaders. This is public record.
Since 1999, the Chavez government’s never-admitted official policy has been to allow the FARC and ELN free transit and indefinite residence in Venezuelan territory. Chavez changed longstanding rules of engagement whereby Venezuelan Army units patrolling the border with Colombia were under orders to interdict and expel all irregular Colombian forces detected inside Venezuela.
This is public record, as every Venezuelan Army officer who commanded troops on the border from 1999-2002 will confirm. It didn’t matter from 2003 onwards, since Chavez had purged the Army sufficiently to assure an obedient officer corps.
The FARC’s 10th, 16th and 45th Fronts have been based permanently in Venezuelan territory since 2003-2004, in a broad arc running from Apure and Bolivar states through the Andean states, Barinas and Zulia.
The three fronts have between 500-600 fighters hiding permanently in Venezuela. They launch cross-border attacks into Colombia with some frequency, using hit-and-run ambush tactics to kill Colombian police and troops.
But increasingly, these FARC fronts focus on their lucrative criminal enterprises including drug trafficking, kidnapping in Venezuela, and money laundering.
The FARC reportedly owns close to three-quarters of the cocaine trans-shipped through Venezuela.
Many FARC and ELN cells specialized in kidnapping currently already are active throughout Venezuela, and their numbers are growing. Last year 537 kidnappings were reported officially, compared with 382 in 2007, 232 in 2006, and 206 in 2005.
Based on trends in the first half of the year, between 800 and 900 kidnappings are likely in 2009, according to CICPC and GAES sources. The average ransom payment in 2008 was $500,000. Conservatively, kidnapping is a $400 million per year business in Venezuela.
The kidnapping business also drives a profitable search-and-recovery industry worth potentially about $100 million a year which is centered in the anti-kidnapping experts of the CICPC, GAES and GAULA across the border in Colombia.
The FARC is believed to be responsible for about 60-70% of the kidnappings reported in Venezuela. The ELN has a “market share” of 10-15%, with the rest split among the Bolivarian Liberation Front (FBL), a native (Bolivarian) clone of the FARC, and organized crime groups.
Rogue Venezuelan military, National Guard and police personnel frequently are implicated in abductions in which FARC or ELN members are also involved.
In September 2008 the US Treasury designated the directors of the Defense Ministry’s intelligence division (DGIM) and the Interior & Justice Ministry’s political police (DISIP), General Hugo Carvajal and General Henry Rangel Silva, respectively, as active material collaborators of the FARC.
At the same time, the US Treasury also designated former Interior & Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin as an active material collaborator of the FARC.
The evidence used by the US government to designate Carvajal, Rangel Silva and Rodriguez Chacin as FARC collaborators was taken mainly from the laptops Colombian troops seized on 1 March 2008 in the FARC base camp where FARC No. 2 chieftain Raul Reyes was killed by a Colombian air strike.
According to the US Treasury Department, the three Venezuelan officials, all top associates of President Hugo Chavez, were actively cooperating with the FARC in many areas including: offering up to $300 million in cash assistance which President Chavez planned to give the FARC; helping the FARC smuggle weapons including surface-to-air man-portable missiles through Venezuelan ports and cross-country to Colombia; protecting cocaine trans-shipments through Venezuela; providing legal Venezuelan citizenship documents to FARC and ELN members; and supplying FARC and ELN members in Venezuela with official security details and housing.
Separately, Colombia’s government confirmed that nine senior FARC leaders are currently hiding in Venezuela.
Elements of DGIM and DISIP also are actively associated with FARC and ELN teams involved in abductions, according to CICIPC and GAES sources.
Rodriguez Chacin says his main interest nowadays is cattle ranching. Not so.
Rodriguez Chacin has been President Chavez’s chief personal liaison with the FARC since the 1990s. But his responsibilities have expanded greatly in the past decade.
Today Rodriguez Chacin is President Chavez’s chief contact with the FARC not only in Venezuela and Colombia, but throughout all of Latin America.
The twin “footprints” of the FARC and Rodriguez Chacin have been found by the intelligence services of a half-dozen Latin American countries – including Brazil and Mexico – in places like Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico.
And in many places, those “footprints” appear to come accompanied over time with an increase in internal social/political instability and increased criminal activities like drug trafficking. But perhaps it’s all coincidental.
Chavez supported the violence in Bolivia led by Evo Morales in 2002. He supported Cristina Kirchner’s election in 2004 with at least $5 million in illegal cash contributions shipped via Pdvsa.
Chavez interfered repeatedly in Ecuador’s and Peru’s presidential elections. He helped Daniel Ortega engineer an election fraud in Nicaragua, and gave tens of millions of dollars to the FMLN in El Salvador to help Mauricio Funes get elected president.
Chavez also gave millions of dollars to the failed presidential campaign of Panama’s Balbina Herrera, the candidate of the incumbent PRD socialist party,who lost to millionaire businessman Ricardo Martinelli.
Chavez’s prints were all over the recent “indigenous” violence in Peru.
And his prints were all over Manuel Zelaya’s illegal attempt in Honduras to force a popular referendum aimed at convening a constituent assembly. The promised pay-off for Zelaya was indefinite re-election and millions of dollars in cheap oil and other Bolivarian aid which, firstly, would make Zelaya a very wealthy man.
Chavez has been promoting instability regionally for years. At home, Chavez has been systematically destroying democracy and the rule of law.
But everyone has looked away for a decade – the US under successive democratic and republican administrations, the OAS, even the countries where Chavez’s intervention has been most unwelcome.
Then Honduras happened.
By luck or design, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recovered quickly after what appeared initially to be an uneven response.
Of course, OAS Secretary General Insulza’s stupidity gave Clinton the perfect segue to ask President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica to mediate talks between the ousted Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheleti.
Chavez is in a rage. His first attempt to forcibly return Zelaya to Tegucigalpa endangered the lives of Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner and President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, since they were aboard the Venezuelan-owned aircraft (Citgo) carrying Zelaya.
Chavez has suspended oil shipments under Petrocaribe until Zelaya is restored to power – 20,000 b/d, says Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez. But Honduras only received about 3,400 b/d in 2008, so the 20,000 b/d figure probably is inflated considerably.
Chavez stopped short of booting Honduras out of the ALBA. Maybe he wants to give Micheleti a chance to reconsider? Not likely.
Zelaya has declared he will show up when least expected somewhere in Honduras. Chavez says he won’t cease his efforts to reinstate Zelaya.
Fidel Castro warns that if the “coup” in Honduras it not reversed, other governments in the region are at risk of a coup – but he doesn’t name them.
But with Costa Rica’s Arias now mediating, the process could take months.
Bad news for Zelaya since Honduras is scheduled to hold presidential elections in November 2009, and Micheleti already has declared he will not be a candidate.
Bad news also for Chavez since the issue of Zelaya’s return to power becomes moot after November’s presidential elections – unless he decides to declare those elections illegitimate and continue his silly charade as the new paladin of regional democracy. There’s a precedent he could take to the OAS: Haiti’s elections after Jean Bertrand Aristide was ousted.
Meanwhile, what of the OAS and its hapless Secretary General, Insulza?
In Honduras he was following Chavez’s orders blindly. A review of his actions and statements throughout the crisis leaves no room for even the smallest doubt.
Chavez owned up on one of his endless broadcasts on Honduras since Zelaya’s expulsion by the army on 28 June 2009 that he orchestrated and directed the events which placed Zelaya, Insulza, Kirchner and Correa in two Venezuelan-owned aircraft in the sky over Tegucigalpa.
Insulza’s primary responsibility, as OAS Secretary General, was to prevent the political theatrics which Chavez manufactured; instead, Insulza did exactly what Chavez dictated. He needs Chavez’s support to be re-elected for another five-term earning a six-figure salary in dollars for doing nothing.
But Secretary of State Clinton reportedly has already informed the government of Chile that the Obama administration will not support Insulza’s re-election. Insulza says the reports are inaccurate. Hopefully, Insulza is mistaken.
Insulza is easily the worst OAS Secretary General in memory. Insulza’s actions aggravated the crisis in Honduras and increased international polarization, when common sense should have prevailed from the start.
What next? Insulza and the OAS have been excluded. Clinton saw to that by inserting Arias personally as the only US-backed mediator in solving the crisis in Honduras.
Arias drew a line of demarcation immediately: Let Central Americans solve their own problems with each other without any external interference. Posted: No Trespassing! The warning applies to Chavez far more than the US or anyone else, as it rightly should.
Will Chavez desist? Micheleti warned that the first foiled attempt to return Zelaya to Honduran territory was so that he could immediately invite Venezuela and other ALBA countries to send troops to Honduras.
But this would entail great risk for Chavez. His Bolivarian army doesn’t have the capability to deploy to Honduras, and any military action by Chavez would be condemned immediately by the US and other governments in the region.
Nicaragua doesn’t have the troops to join any Chavez-led military adventurism against the new Honduran government. El Salvador’s conservative military leaders would flatly refuse orders from President Funes.
Cuba won’t openly place troops in Honduras either, especially not after Insulza greased the wheels in the OAS to invite Cuba, suspended in 1962, to return if it promises to play by OAS democratic rules.
Has Chavez finally reached his high-water mark in Honduras? This is impossible to predict.
The democratic institutions of Honduras stopped Zelaya and Chavez in their tracks. But Honduras could well be the exception to the rule.
Chavez will do whatever he must to remain in power indefinitely. His heroes include Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Chavez helped Ortega commit electoral fraud in Nicaragua. He will do the same, if necessary, for Morales in Bolivia and Correa in Ecuador.
Chavez won’t back down. The nature of his Bolivarian revolution allows for no respite – ever. The process always advances, democratically and violently, always together in pursuit of a single goal: power by any means.
If Chavez can’t return Zelaya to power, he will seek ways to destabilize Honduras’ next government.