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The 'Cubanization' of Latin America

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady | The Wall Street Journal

April 29, 2005; Page A17 | The character assassination of President Bush's nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is an indication of just how desperate Democrats are to eliminate John Bolton's world view from U.S. policy-making circles. Notably, Mr. Bolton's position on Cuba seems to have the Democrats in a snit.

The problem is that Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd -- a liberal who boasts a spotless record of being on the wrong side of history in Latin America -- and his fellow Democrats yearn for engagement with the diabolical Fidel Castro. Mr. Bolton, on the other hand, has long seen the Cuban dictatorship as a menace to regional stability and U.S. security.

On a trip to South America earlier this month I was impressed by the alarm sounding around the region about the wily Fidel and his reprehensible agenda descending on Latins. The evidence is mounting that Mr. Bolton had it right. Meanwhile, Sen. Dodd continues his unbroken losing streak.

One witness to the Cuban assault on the region that I interviewed on my tour is a former Venezuelan military officer who has fled his country and now lives undercover elsewhere in South America. He presented his facts and his analysis with steely conviction. The sum of his testimony was frightening: Colombia, the U.S.'s best ally in the region, is seriously at risk.

Having served under Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the officer confidently laid out the strongman's agenda: "It is a clear and precise expansion of the communist revolution directed by Fidel Castro. It is the resurrection of the Cuban ideal of exporting revolution." He went on to explain that the "formal, traditional Venezuelan military no longer exists. The military apparatus now exists to defend the revolution."

That fits perfectly with other reports from Venezuela. But there was more. He described "a process consisting of two parts." The first has been the consolidation of the revolution at the national level. The second stage is the internationalization of the revolution.

Despite Chávez's great oil wealth, the implementation of this process has relied on Cuban leadership. My source claimed that at least two high-ranking Cuban officers he could name, and of whom he had pictures, heavily influence Venezuelan military activity. The former officer told me that he broke with his command because he could "no longer continue to cooperate with the Cubanization of Venezuela."

There is a joke circulating among anti-chavistas these days that asks, "What is the largest Cuban province?" Answer: "Venezuela." But the reverse may be more accurate. Venezuela appears to be in the process of appropriating Cuba.

Chávez has made his brother, Adán, Venezuela's ambassador in Havana. Venezuelan media has reported that Cuba now receives 85,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil daily; it uses about 40,000 and sells the balance. This has made the ambassador very powerful on the pathetically poor island. It has also raised the prospects that hard-liners will continue to control matters in Cuba after Fidel's death. All the calculations concerning "transition" when the old man finally kicks the bucket will have to be reworked as Chávez wrests power from more moderate forces.

In the meantime, the export of revolution continues with Venezuela using its oil revenues to arm subversive groups around the region. Bolivia's leading revolutionary, Evo Morales, is a Chávez disciple, coached and coddled from Caracas. Ecuador's former President Lucio Gutiérrez fell last week due to popular, and mostly peaceful, protests against his Chávez-like consolidation of power. But there is also reason to believe that Chávez actors created the violence in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca in the hopes of further destabilizing the fragile situation to his advantage. My Venezuelan contact assured me that there is evidence of infiltration in the Ecuadoran armed forces.

He also told me that Chávez envisions an axis of power linking Brasilia, Montevideo and Buenos Aires. As it is, these populist governments aren't much for standing on principle and anything anti-Yanqui scores cheap domestic points; some may even aspire to Venezuelan-style authoritarianism. But it is also possible that cooperation with Chávez is part survival technique to ward off his use of bullying militants.

Still, there remains one big stumbling block to Castro's ultimate dream. As the Venezuelan officer explained to me, to get from the stage of power consolidation in Venezuela to the internationalization stage, the revolution must necessarily "break the spine of democracy in the region. That is Colombia."

Colombians are specifically worried about three things. The first is Chávez's overt weapons buildup. War is not considered imminent. But there is a fear that the persistent threat from a hostile neighbor engaged aggressively in arms acquisition will take a toll politically and economically.

The second concern is Chávez support for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN). For years Castro has been giving their troops medical care in Cuba. But now Chávez is providing safe haven to them just across the Colombian border. The officer I interviewed told me, as others have testified, that when he was assigned to the border area in Venezuela, he had "received direct orders to leave FARC camps alone."

The third big worry that Colombians have about Venezuelan aggression is the likelihood that Chávez will try to interfere in the 2006 presidential elections. There is good reason to believe that Chávez will choose his Colombian protégé, fund him liberally, and should he "win," help him to consolidate power the same way it was done in Venezuela. Colombia has just such politicians who want to ape Chávez.

Castro's revolution is alive and active all over Latin America. Where he and his Venezuelan mini-me have not gained the upper hand, they have been successful in fueling violence and instability and discouraging development.

If Mr. Bolton felt, in recent years, that U.S. intelligence in the region was wanting and could end up costing U.S. interests, he was prescient. Indeed, it seems that when it comes to anticipating threats to U.S. security in Latin America, the world's sole superpower has been caught off guard.

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