Fears of a New Cold War in Venezuela and Colombia

Hugo Chavez goes saber-rattling, raising the likelihood of a regional crisis

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While the West celebrates the fall of the Berlin Wall,  Hugo Chavez is stirring up a new Cold War in South America. Over the weekend, the socialist leader of Venezuela warned his citizens to prepare for war with neighboring Colombia, a close U.S. ally. This move escalates tensions that began this summer when Colombia accused Chavez of funding FARC, Colombia's left wing guerrillas. Now, there are fears that the conflict could lead to a full scale arms race in the Southern Hemisphere.

Conservative pundits say this is the latest sign that Chavez is a dangerous "bully" who could potentially destabilize the region if President Obama doesn't get tougher on Venezuela. But others say there's good reason to believe Chavez's latest threats can't be taken seriously.

  • Colombia Should Be Very, Very Worried  At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey says Chavez wants to replace Colombia's president with a socialist, anti-American regime and turn Venezuela into a "world power intent on humbling the US in our hemisphere." And Morrissey says that thanks to Obama's weak response to the crises in Iran and Honduras, Chavez thinks he has found the perfect American president to bully.  "The strange response to the Honduran crisis apparently has Chavez believing that Obama is particularly malleable, although it could also be that Chavez has taken the lesson from Obama’s handling of Iran."
  • America Should Defend Its Closest Ally  At The Weekly Standard, John Noonan says it's probably a bad idea to send American military power to the region, since a move could play to Chavez's anti-imperialist blustering. But Noonan does wants to see President Obama provide non-military assistance to Colombia. "President Obama will likely avoid involvement--not necessarily an unwise move considering Chavez wants to play up the U.S. as an imperial aggressor meme--but providing some token assistance in the form of a non-combat support role (like AWACs) might be enough to put Chavez in his place," he writes. "And it would further signal other U.S. allies that the White House still takes our defense alliances seriously."
  • A Dictator In President's Clothing  At The Wall Street Journal, Mary O'Grady says Chavez's most recent aggression is simply more proof that he is a dictator posing as a legitimate president in order to more easily take over democratic institutions. According to O'Grady, this was a lesson learned out of the playbook of the Chilean left. "Fidel Castro learned a lot from Chilean President Salvador Allende's failed power grab in 1973. And he used the lessons of that bitter defeat to coach Venezuela's Hugo Chávez to dictatorship under the guise of democracy more than 25 years later."
  • Racing to Stop an Arms Race  At Foreign Policy, Jordana Timerman says arms spending is on the rise across the region. "The Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, and the Cold War itself ended soon after, but if you're feeling nostalgic, tune into the Cold War of the Andes: somewhat more farcical and definitely less likely to end in nuclear annihilation, but riveting nonetheless." Timerman says the U.S. should help build alliances in the region that would prevent such an arms race. "With Venezuelan troops lining up on the Colombian border, Peruvian officials' urging fellow South American countries to reduce military spending arms purchasing, in addition to creating a regional security force, is making a lot more sense."
  • Chavez Can't Be Taken Seriously  Steven Taylor of the PoliBlog calls the president's bluff. "The bottom line is that a) there is nothing for Chávez to gain from a war with Colombia and, b) Venezuela would likely lose such a confrontation. As such, it is difficult to take the saber-rattling seriously."
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