Today, a large part of the Latin American continent is in danger of collapsing into a situation that fluctuates between totalitarianism and anarchy; between authoritarianism and chaos. The region is also in danger of falling under the strange influence of insurgent and terrorist groups, drug cartels and distant countries that historically have been poles apart from the region's culture and civilization (mainly Iran, China, and perhaps Russia).
Part of the reason for this is the rise of Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution, which has had a mix of domestic, and foreign policy repercussions. The Bolivarian revolution has opened up a "window of opportunity" for external actors such as those mentioned above.
Venezuela has established a model of government and ideology that have implications on domestic and foreign policy. In terms of domestic policy, the regime is socialist and absolutist. It attacks private property and market forces, and, it suppresses the political and civil opposition as well as the media. For foreign policy, the model expands the Bolivarian revolution and is inclined to unify Latin America as much as possible under Chavez's leadership.
Domestically, the model is currently being reproduced by other leaders in the region (so far Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua). Thus, under the veil of pursuing social justice, executive power has been strengthened at the expense of civil society. Likewise, judicial independence and freedom of expression have been undermined.
Important to note is the perpetuation of power at the expense of civil society. Chavez has a continental agenda where he seeks to create a new block in the country under Venezuelan hegemony. The existence of pro-Chavez authoritarian regimes makes the decision making process faster and Bolivarian continental domination easier. Indeed, decisions that affect a vast region could ultimately be made by a handful of leaders that do not have to be accountable to Congress, civil society or any other institution.
Chavez also tries to co-opt grassroots and indigenous movements emerging in different countries in order to incorporate them in his revolutionary hurricane. However, Chavez as a true revolutionary relies and appeals mostly to violent groups. Thus, his main ally is none other than the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
As the FARC is being defeated in Colombia and expelled from the country, it has emerged in other countries with the help of Chavez and his allies. In Ecuador, relations with the FARC go up to the highest levels of government, including the president, the judiciary and the army. In Bolivia, ties with the FARC have increased since the MAS took over the reins of power. Most significantly, the FARC along with Chavez have created an international terrorist group, called the Coordinadora Continental Bolivariana (Bolivarian Continental Coordinator or CCB). The CCB has included revolutionary groups such as the Spanish ETA, and, will most likely try to spread insurgency across Latin America on behalf of the Bolivarian revolution.
The Bolivarian revolution is also related to the drug cartels. Last year, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to the report "Venezuela has extended a life line to Colombian illegal armed groups and drug cartels by providing them with support and safe heaven."
Thus, the flow of cocaine transiting from Venezuela to the U.S, Europe and West Africa increased more than four times from 2004 to 2007 and continues to sharply increase. The drug business continues to expand all across Latin America including Central America, the Caribbean, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.
What is worse, the drug business corrupts the institutions of the state and undermines its authority. Drug money can buy lawyers, judges, policemen, politicians, and almost everyone and everything. This is further aggravated by the fact that Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador expelled the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from their countries
The example of Mexico and Guatemala are very alarming examples of the devastating effects of drug cartel activity. In some of the Mexican states that border the U.S, there is no real distinction between members of the drug cartels and members of the police department. Guatemala has hired private security companies because it is unable to exercise monopoly of force over its own territory.
Thus, when Chavez and his allies associate themselves with the drug business, it helps destabilize the region. Chavez seeks to destabilize governments, overthrow them, and later tilt them towards his revolution and join forces with him.
Moreover, the anarchy that is being created with the proliferation of the drug cartels and the FARC could lead to a situation of Afghanization where the authority of the state is given up and power is transferred to non-state groups or warlords. That situation can perpetuate itself even if Chavez were to disappear. As a situation like this spreads it will lead to regional instability. Against this background of anarchy, it is not hard to understand the growing presence of Iranians and radical Islamists in the region. Terrorist usually flourish in territories that are ungovernable. Indeed, it was reported that there is an association between Hamas, Hezbollah and other radical Islamic groups with Mexican drug trafficking cartels. This is a direct threat to U.S security given the Mexican cartels access to the U.S Southern border.
It was reported that members of the Iranian revolutionary guards have been traveling to Venezuela and that young Venezuelans affiliated with the ‘Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela' (Chavez's party) have been trained in Hezbollah camps.
In addition, it is likely that the Venezuelan "Mujadeen" could be used for acts of violence and be part of the repressive apparatus. The Venezuelan government has formalized the creation of a parallel Militia in a new law passed last October. The Militia can recruit foreigners. This situation may lead the way to an incorporation of guerillas such as the FARC and Islamic terrorists such as Hezbollah into the Bolivarian Militia in order to consolidate totalitarian regimes across Latin America.
Chavez has supported Iran internationally, by supporting its right to pursue a nuclear program. He has also supported Iran- mentored groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas in their war against Israel, and, has helped Iran avoid sanctions by facilitating its banking system. Venezuela has also reportedly produced uranium for Iran and it is most likely that once Iran has a nuclear capability, if requested, Iran could provide Chavez with nuclear weapons.
In addition to his relations with Iran, Chavez has been successful in moving closer to China and Russia. China's outreach to Latin America has been both of an economic and geo-political nature. Given that China controls the ports at both ends of the Panama Canal, has a major port in Freeport, Bahamas, and is about to obtain a deep water port in Manta, Ecuador, one might conclude that China seeks to expand its influence in America's backyard.
China increased its investment in Latin America by 400 percent. China's trade with Latin America grew by 40% between 2007 and 2008 making their trade with the region in 2008 three times higher than in 2004. Likewise, Latin American exports to China increased by 41% between 2007 and 2008. As China's demand for raw materials continues its economic and industrial operation will expand throughout the continent. In this sense, Chinese economic activities and investments provide China with tremendous leverage over these countries. Chavez and his allies might be perpetuated China's help, as demonstrated recently by China's twenty billion dollar loan to Venezuela.
China might also be interested in perpetuating dictatorships in Latin America because China has a major interest in reducing the influence of world democracies. Through its trade and financial assistance, China seeks to ease international pressure on various regimes concerning the issue of democracy and human rights. China's economic growth and increasing influence in the world enables it to support and even bail out the Bolivarian regime and its allies.
The same applies to Russia, whose arms sales to Chavez are currently valued at $5.4 billion. According to scholar Stephen Blank, Moscow's arms sales to Venezuela and Cuba are aimed at giving Chavez what he needs to promote the Bolivarian revolution throughout Latin America.
The U.S Administration needs to pay attention to these developments. Soon, we will wake up to the day where we will find the nightmare not in Iraq or in Central Asia, but right here in our own backyard.