By James Jay Carafano
One of the sharpest critics of US disaster relief efforts in Haiti is the President of Venezuela. His problem is not that aid is too slow. His problem is the United States. "The Empire," in other words America, Hugo Chávez declared, "is taking Haiti over the bodies and tears of its people." Chávez added, "They [the U.S.] brazenly occupied Haiti without consulting the UN or the OAS [Organization of American States]." There is a temptation to ignore his populist rhetoric, but that would be a mistake. Chávez is dangerous.
The threat posed by Chávez is the subject of a recent study by the Heritage Foundation's senior analyst for Latin America, Ray Walser, titled "State Sponsors of Terrorism: Time to Add Venezuela to the List"
In his study, Walser points out that the U.S. officially designates four countries as state sponsors of terrorism--Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Sudan. A careful review of the facts shows that it is high time to add Venezuela to the list. Far from being merely a populist showman and bully, Hugo Chávez is a reckless leader who collaborates with Colombian narcoterrorists and Islamist terrorists, pals around with brutal Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a virulent anti-Semite, and is guided by a relentless anti-Americanism in everything he does.
Walser concludes, the White House should:
Add Venezuela to the State Sponsors of Terrorism List. Congress should pass a resolution calling for placing Venezuela on the state sponsors of terrorism list and the Obama Administration should promptly proceed with adding Venezuela to the list. While largely symbolic because of existing restrictions on arms sales and technology transfers, it would give the U.S. greater authority to monitor U.S. financial transactions with Venezuela. The U.S. should make sure that the full rigor of the law is applied to Venezuela's commerce and trade in order to prevent Venezuela from acting as a front for Iran or other terrorism-friendly regimes.
Launch a Real Public Diplomacy Effort Against Chávez. The U.S. is losing the battle against massive disinformation spawned by Chavez. If the Obama Administration wishes to preserve the security of the hemisphere, it must move to more proactive rebuttals with skilled public affairs efforts. Take the U.S. embassy's Web site in Caracas, http://caracas.usembassy.gov, which fails to post any information that challenges the outlandish assertions made by Chávez regarding U.S. policy in places like Colombia. In brief, the Obama Administration needs to develop an informational campaign to counter Chavista disinformaion.
Enhance U.S. Capacity Building to Counter Terrorism and Drug Trafficking in the Americas. The threat posed by Chávez and his allies is far from overt. It lies in the asymmetrical contest that pits the lesser accumulation of threats, such as drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and money laundering, to erode U.S. power and influence. The U.S. must do a better job of collecting, analyzing, and distributing intelligence regarding Chávez and the active threat posed by traditional terrorism and narcoterrorism in the Americas. It should use available intelligence platforms, such as the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JITF-South) at Key West and the new observation locations in Colombia, to monitor Venezuelan support for narcoterrorism and criminal activity.
Improve Security for Friends. The Administration should make clear its commitment to supporting and defending friends, such as Colombia, from either overt aggression and intimidation by Venezuelan military forces or indirect aggression through Venezuelan support for the FARC. Beyond the recent Defense Cooperation Agreement, the U.S. should be prepared to give Colombia a guarantee of political and, if necessary, military support against a threat of unprovoked attack by Chávez and the Venezuelan military. This will help moderate Colombian anxieties and silence those who are beginning to question U.S. readiness to help Colombia resist Chávez's bullying. Congress should cement the relationship with Colombia by passing long-delayed Free Trade Agreements with Colombia and Panama.