Weakened Chavez becoming more dangerous Updated, & bumped

Hugo Chavez is threatening domestic opponents with confiscation of their property if they continue to fight his effort to be voted into office for life.

The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, today threatened to strip the country’s industrialists of their assets if they continued to oppose his indefinite presidency.

Chávez faces a vote at the weekend on his proposals to change 69 articles of the constitution, including scrapping the limit on the number of terms a president can serve.

Venezuela’s largest business chamber, Fedecámaras, to which thousands of large and small businesses belong, has called the planned reforms an “illegal act”, and called on voters to oppose their passage “by every possible legal means”.

Arrests and indefinite incarceration can’t be far behind. But the threat that Chavez poses isn’t limited to the area within Venezuela’s borders. He’s also a threat to his neighbors.

An IBD editorial sums up the growing danger that Hugo Chavez poses to Colombia. The backdrop is negotiations between Colombia and the FARC, which Chavez had been mediating until Colombian President Alberto Uribe learned that Chavez was working with the terrorists. Uribe fired Chavez.

In theory, a mediator should persuade two sides to each give up something to achieve a common end. The only one who gave up anything, however, was Uribe, who watched Chavez cavort with terrorists before TV cameras, giving them a legitimacy in Caracas they never had known.

Even worse, Chavez proved to be acting as an agent of the terrorists. Uribe’s sudden cutoff of the mediation effort at a hastily organized press conference last Wednesday suggested disturbing new information.

On Sunday, Chavez confirmed it: “I think Colombia deserves another president, it deserves a better president,” he said.

That followed a discussion in a U.S. prison between extradited FARC terrorist Ricardo Palmera, aka “Simon Trinidad,” and another mediator and Chavez ally appointed by Uribe, Senator Piedad Cordoba. They discussed “a transitional government” with the terrorist as a bargaining chip for the hostage swap.

On Monday, Chavez repeated what he had in mind to make sure Uribe understood. “Reconciliation is impossible,” he said. “We have to wait for a new government in Colombia we can talk with. I hope it arrives sooner rather than later.”

No wonder Uribe lashed out, saying Chavez was less interested in mediating than in overthrowing Colombia’s government. That may have sounded far-fetched, but it’s what the guerrillas have been fighting for since 1964, and Chavez’s admiration for them is no secret. Uribe, who has come down on the guerrillas harder than any other Colombian leader, is the president they want gone.

“You seek continental domination” Uribe said, and “a Marxist FARC government” to replace Colombia’s elected one. He also pointed out that it was prime time for Chavez to be trying this, with the Venezuelan’s public support at home flagging just one week before a constitutional referendum to grant him absolute power.

I’ve half expected Chavez to go expansionist on Colombia for a couple of years now. FARC makes for a natural Chavez ally. The Venezuelan polls show him losing support for being made dictator for life by vote. Colombia is a US ally, but not one that we’re likely to go all out for if Chavez attacks by proxy via the FARC and the paramilitary groups that he has been creating across Venezuela.

I guess what I’m getting at is, if you’re wondering where the next land war in South America is likely to be, keep an eye on the Venezuela-Colombia border.

Update: I’ve received an email from the author of the IBD report linked above. The author goes into quite a bit more detail about Chavez, Colombia and FARC, and I think it adds much to the discussion. The author directly addresses Blaise’s comments about Corodoba.

I just got back from Bogota and my editorial was informed by my experience there.

One, the ‘transitional government’ reference is real. The Colombia government hasn’t backed away from its charge that Cordoba talked of a transitional government with Simon Trinidad. Late last night it released in English its charge that that happened. That means they wanted that to get out – and they indexed it with Google, which is unusual. If you’d like to look, see here: http://web.presidencia.gov.co/sp/2007/noviembre/25/11252007.html.

As for Blaise’s claim that the US officials have backed Cordoba’s claim, I am not sure that’s correct. I’ve searched the US embassy Web site and the Colombian press sites and I don’t see any such reference.

But whether Cordoba has talked about a ‘transitional government’ which Blaise discounts, Chavez himself stated twice for emphasis that he wants another government running Colombia.

Meanwhile, while I don’t think it’s likely, it’s possible that Chavez could make menacing military border moves since the Cuban press reported that he called his men to their barracks. He’s also not a peaceable leader, he sent troops in to invade much weaker Guyana this month, google that, scary stuff. I think he’s more likely to meddle through cash to get the Colombian voters to give him what he wants. Whatever he does, it’s meddling and he’s capable of it. He’s meddled in every single election in Latin America since 2006. There’s no doubt in my mind that Chavez was threatening Uribe with regime change from his repeated statements about it, and Cordoba is his ally.

Why would Cordoba deny this, by the way? Because she’s facing treason charges on some other matter (I don’t think anything will come of it, someone not in the government brought a case before the Supreme Court over an unrelated matter and they are probing). But she has an incentive to protect herself from the ‘transition’ talk under such legal heat. This all just happened yesterday. She’s openly Chavista, she wears red a lot, she suddenly has a lot of money, and she’s somehow got a lot of FARC contacts.

I am not sure what Blaise meant by IBD publishing an error about Chavez and FARC, I wish I knew what he meant. For his information, FARC calls itself a ‘Bolivarian’ organization and it’s had Chavez’s picture festooning its web site in the past. A former FARC hostage who escaped last Dec 31, Fernando Araujo, who is now Colombia’s foreign minister, said that his FARC kidnappers used to dance with glee any time they heard Chavez speaking on the radio. There’s no doubt that Hugo and the FARC are like lips and teeth, the only thing separating them up till now has been an absence of contact, and the mediation opportunity from Uribe gave them both a golden opportunity to have that contact. There was something really dreadful about Chavez slavering to have a meeting with Manuel Marulanda, the aging FARC founder who’s been in the Colombian jungle for 43 years. Chavez would have treated him with the same drooling devotion as he does Castro because Marulanda is a ‘legend.’ Chavez has a great deal of admiration for FARC and the feeling is mutual. His talk of regime change reflected precisely the FARC’s final aim.

The author is checking on one other startling Chavez gambit in Colombia. I’ll update once more is learned about it. Here are a couple of reports on the Venezuela-Guyana conflict, the initial action itself and an update from today.