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Venezuela's Chavez at a crossroads: Will he blink or charge ahead?

By Miguel Octavio | The Devil's Excrement

23.01.05 | This week’s edition of local Zeta magazine has an interesting Editorial that came to my mind as I read the news tonight. Essentially, Zeta's Editor Rafael Poleo says that Chavez’ main problem at this time may simply be that he has so many crisis or fires burnings simultaneously, that he has no time to worry about the important affairs of running the state.

Poleo is right and he is wrong. He is right because even if Chavez is really the night owl that he is supposed to be, it will be hard for him to juggle all of the hot potatoes that he is trying to handle today. He has conflicts about land interventions, company’s confiscation, the image of hero Danilo being destroyed and now the Granda affair. But Poleo is also wrong because revolutions simply don’t care about running the affairs of state and making people live better. They just want to appear to care and push forward to gain or maintain control.

But the Granda case is likely to be one the most significant tough spots in Chavez’ Presidency for the simple reason that Sept. 11th. changed the outlook for countries that harbor terrorists, like the Chavez Government has clearly done in the last six years. There have always been suspicions that Chavez was somehow subsidizing or meeting with terror groups, but evidence was always indirect and hard to prove. With the Granda case, the evidence is mounting so fast that Chavez this time around will have to choose sides. At this time I suspect he might not choose the “good” side as many people expect. In fact, when official Government websites have articles entitled "And who says the FARC are terrorists?", you have to worry about the direction Chavez is thinking about.

Things have really become complicated for our tropical autocrat. Even if the Government tries to scream “international conspiracy” like Maduro did today, it sounds too hollow. And if Chavez becomes more and more the pariah President as the days go by, many of the Chavistas, like Maduro, may be forced to choose sides, deepening the many divisions and bickering within the Chavez movement.

The US and Colombia are playing hardball with the Granda case, as I warned a few days ago. The same dossier that was sent to the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry was shown personally to Lula and sent to Rodriguez Zapatero in Spain. The consequences were immediate; Lula stopped trying to talk to Uribe about softening the tone and sent his personal emissary to talk to Chavez today. Meanwhile, Rodriguez Zapatero canceled his stop in Caracas during his South America trip, even at the risk of losing an important arms sale and there is a report that it was Uribe that called Rodriguez Zapatero and asked that his stop in Caracas be cancelled.

And this is part of the hardball being played at the international level. Rodriguez Zapatero is not a Latin American leftist with dreams of getting his people out of poverty. His people have come out of poverty and have been the target of the second most important terrorist attack on innocent people after Sept. 11th. And this places the Spanish Prime Minister in a very different position than Lula, Chavez or Kirschner. He knows what it means to have his people be hit by a large terrorist attack. He not only got to power thanks to it, but he felt it with them.

And the full court press continues all over the place with Colombian Ambassadors across the world handing out full dossiers to those interested in the crisis, while slowly leaking some of the evidence to the media to guarantee that the issue will not go away anytime soon. More to come in the next few days. Lot’s of stuff to blog about in the upcoming week on this subject.

The US Government is also keeping the pressure up, by sending a note to many Latin American countries expressing its concern about Chavez harboring terrorists in Venezuela. One can imagine some of them disregarding the note as another intromission by the US in Latin American affairs, but immediately being hit by the harsh reality of the news that as many as 100 members of the FARC attended a political Congress in Caracas a month ago. Images of dozens of people from their own countries exchanging strategies with these terrorists, or blueprints of weapons or even offers of mutual aid, will surely keep many of these Latin American leaders awake at night.

And then tonight Uribe sends a message to the Venezuelan people directly as well as to other Bolivarian countries, asking them to help fight terrorism. By doing so, he places both Chávez and his collaborators in a very uncomfortable position.

As usual when an unexpected crisis comes, Chavez steps back, gathers his advisors and plots what his next step will be. The problem is that he is dealing with a multi faceted and constant attack by people who have beliefs and strategies as coherent as Chavez’ are. Thus, they are not waiting for Chavez’ response, but guaranteeing that his plans for a response will be aborted even before he has had a chance to implement it or announce it.

Tomorrow Chavez will supposedly lead a march in defense of sovereignty from Petare, at the extreme East of the valley of Caracas, to the middle where the Colombian Consulate is. Chavez has not dared mingle with his people for quite a long time as he gets more and more paranoid that too many people want to kill him.

Personally leading that march tomorrow may present other risks for the Venezuelan President. If things get out of hand and there is a clash with another scheduled opposition march in defense of democracy, he will look bad internationally. If his own march gets violent or too intense outside the Colombian Consulate, images of similar past protests in La Havana or even in Teheran, may send a very powerful negative image of Chavez as an out of control rogue President.

At this time, it will simply be a matter of what Chavez decides to do this time around. This blogger believes that Chavez created this crisis on purpose, as part of an aggressive stage of the internationalization of his revolution. Once the Granda affair exploded, he chose one course of action, thinking that he was seizing an opportunity for the export of Bolivarianism. Typically, Chavez steps back until he finds another opportunity for attack, but somehow all of his radical friends are watching closely and the choice will not be an easy one this time around.

And as Poleo says in Zeta, this also distracts him from his own internal problems in Venezuela, where not all of his supporters, including the military, sympathize with the thought of foreign terrorists roaming around in Venezuela freely, attending conferences, receiving Venezuelan ID cards and passports and even voting. Thus, Chavez is certainly at a crossroads. Rationality would suggest he choose to step back, even if only briefly. But will he blink or charge ahead?

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