A Pentagon planning report cited growing security concerns over Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s populism.
BY PABLO BACHELET
WASHINGTON – A new Pentagon long-term planning document mentions Venezuela as a concern, reflecting a mounting sense that President Hugo Chávez’s fiery populism poses a challenge to U.S. security.
The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review says poor income distribution and weak democratic institutions have led to a “resurgence of populist authoritarian political movements in some countries, such as Venezuela.”
”These movements . . . are a source of political and economic instability,” added the QDR, issued last week. It comes out every four years.
Venezuela’s mention in the QDR was unusual because the document typically discusses broad trends and seldom mentions individual countries. Cuba, for example, was not mentioned. The 2001 QDR did not mention any Latin American country.
The QDR’s reference to Venezuela was the latest in a steady drumbeat of U.S. statements criticizing the leftist Chávez as an increasingly authoritarian leader, a buyer of massive new weaponry and exporter of an aggressive brand of populism that could destabilize Latin America.
Earlier this week, the Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said Venezuela posed the most serious threat to U.S. interests in Latin America and was seeking closer ties with North Korea and Iran — both accused of having or seeking nuclear weapons. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compared Chávez to the also democratically elected Adolf Hitler.
Ryan Henry, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, asked later by a reporter about the Venezuela reference in the QDR, said “we do view with concern what’s happened in Venezuela, we think that that’s going in the wrong direction.”
In November, defense analyst William Arkin reported in his Washington Post blog that a Pentagon budget planning document, known as FY08-13 POM and dated in October, had listed Venezuela as a ”rogue nation” along with Syria. Pentagon officials confirmed the document’ existence to The Miami Herald, but denied it represented an official policy view of Caracas.
Venezuela’s ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, says his country is only promoting alternatives to the Bush agenda of development for Latin America. ”We are not a threat to the national interest of the United States,” he told a group of journalists Thursday.
Chávez has repeatedly alleged that the Bush administration supported a 2002 coup attempt against him and is now plotting to either assassinate him or invade his oil-rich country. Late last month he alleged that Washington was considering declaring Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism, but gave no details. Washington has just as repeatedly denied all the charges.
The Bush administration has been wary of the populist leader for some time. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has voiced her concern that governments elected democratically may then govern undemocratically.
POPULISM WILL GROW
”It is a greater threat than if you’re dealing with an illegitimate authoritarian regime,” said Steve C. Ropp, a Latin American and national security specialist at the University of Wyoming. As a visiting scholar at the U.S. Army War College, he wrote a paper circulating in the Bush administration, The Strategic Implications of the Rise of Populism in Europe and South America.
The paradox, he added, is that such populist challenges are likely to get worse as more countries become democracies and elect leaders that offer quick-fix solutions for income inequality and corruption, and blame Washington’s policies for their troubles.
In the QDR, Venezuela is mentioned in a section titled ”shaping the choices of countries at strategic crossroads,” which argues that major and emerging powers will affect the future strategic position of Washington and its friends.
”The United States will attempt to shape these choices in ways that foster cooperation and mutual security interests,” the QDR says. “At the same time, the United States, its allies and partners must also hedge against the possibility that a major or emerging power could choose a hostile path in the future.”