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Hugo Chavez's WMDs: Remember the Maine?

By Clinton W. Taylor | The American Spectator

Published 4/11/2005 12:06:51 AM | Spain's Europa Press news agency reports reports that Venezuela purchased "biological and nerve agents" as well as dual-use materials from Spain sometime during the first half of 2004. According to a report about defense expenditures obtained by Europa Press, Venezuela was the only country listed under the category of "states to which chemical warfare agents and radioactive materials were sold." An English translation appears here.

The accusation comes in the wake of Spain's announcement that it will sell conventional weaponry -- military transport planes and and patrol boats -- to Venezuela. I found the story through Iberian blogger Barcepundit, who notes that "If Rumsfeld was reportedly angry about the sale of planes and boats, boy I can only imagine what he'll think about this."

The amount of biological or nerve agents probably isn't large -- Europa Press sets the purchase price at 30,000 Euros, which isn't out of line with the price of a single kilogram of South American heroin. I'm not familiar with the going rates on the WMD black market, but hopefully doomsday weapons are scarcer and therefore more expensive than heroin. (A further 500,000 Euros was spent on the dual-use materials which might be legitimately destined for the petroleum and leather-tanning industries.) But any amount of WMD in the hands of the Castroite Chavez regime is too much.

President Chavez may be a thuggish autocrat, but he isn't stupid enough to use chemical or biological weapons against American civilians, at least directly. He may see them as insurance against the possibility of an American invasion; however, the United States demonstrated in Iraq that threats of chemical retaliation will not deter us should we decide to invade.

A more likely scenario is the use of these WMD's for international extortion against South American governments. Chavez's alleged links to Colombia's narcoterrorist FARC and to Evo Morales's cocaleros in Bolivia suggest he could find a vector for the weapons should he need one. The implicit threat of arming insurgent groups with WMD's may compel these governments -- especially the precarious democracy in Bolivia -- to accommodate Venezuela's policies or to reject ours.

Interestingly, Spain and Venezuela have both ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, Article I of which requires that:

Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never under any circumstances:
(a) To develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone;
(b) To use chemical weapons;
(c) To engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons;
(d) To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.

Taken slightly more seriously than the CWC, however, is the Monroe Doctrine -- the longstanding U.S. policy that Europe messes around in the Americas at its own peril. Spain was reminded of this rule quite forcefully in 1898, in a war that ended in its greatest defeat since 1588. The last time a foreign power tried to set up WMD's in a Latin American country, President Kennedy blockaded the country, confronted the Soviet ships, and nearly provoked nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

On April 21 the Latin American and Caribbean branch of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will meet in Cartagena to discuss the ongoing implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. At the top of the agenda should be Venezuela's apparent contempt for its obligations under the Convention.

Meanwhile the United States should demand some answers from Spain. Most importantly, is this information accurate, or has Europa Press just published the Spanish equivalent of the Rathergate memos? These
allegations are sufficiently disturbing that Europa Press needs to publish the entire leaked report, and submit it to the world's scrutiny

Assuming the story is accurate: President Luis Zapatero was elected in the aftermath of the 3-11 Madrid bombing. The Europa Press source dates the sales to Venezuela from the first half of 2004, meaning it could have been either the Socialist Zapatero or his pro-American predecessor Jose Maria Aznar who arranged the sale. Which administration is responsible? My first guess is that since Zapatero hasn't taken the opportunity to decry his opposition's perfidious practice of selling weapons to rogue dictators, he may end up with tapas on his face.

More important than who sold the weapons is how much they sold, whether delivery has been completed, whether the sales were only for that quarter or they have been ongoing, and whether the exports were limited to Venezuela. If Spain is not forthcoming with answers about its WMD sales, Americans should consider a boycott of Rioja. And the U.S. should ultimately consider designating both Venezuela and Spain "states of proliferation concern" under the Proliferation Security Initiative, encouraging the interdiction and search of Spanish ships just as we do with North Korean vessels suspected of carrying illegal weapons.

If this threat is real, the Bush administration must react strongly to make certain that WMD's aren't finding their way into the Americas. Our intelligence services need to figure out what Chavez is doing with these weapons. And our diplomatic service needs to make it brutally clear to Spain that we will not tolerate further arming of Chavez's regime. As Admiral Dewey might have said, you may fire when ready, Condi.

Clinton W. Taylor ( is a lawyer and a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Stanford. He was a Boren National Security Fellow in Bolivia in 2001.

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