by Pete Karman
January, 2001

Will war be the Bush administrationā€˜s cure for the looming economic turndown? It's looking more that way every day.

The Pentagon is in the midst of a multi-billion dollar buildup in the Andes, pouring weapons and advisors into Columbia and spending $64 million just to improve one air base in Ecuador. Can more billions and body bags be far behind?

Why war? The cover story is to combat cocaine. But it's thin cover at best. The real enemy, according to surprisingly frank statements by Trent Lott and other GOP leaders, is Hugo Chavez, the democratically-elected populist president of oil-rich Venezuela, Columbia's neighbor. In years past, he would have been labeled anti-American or communist. Nowadays, the charge against him is being anti-globalist.

A tough former paratrooper, Chavez is off the reservation as far as Washington is concerned. Elected two years ago with a powerful mandate for change from the poor who form the great majority in Venezuela, his regime has been busy reforming the country's corrupt political structure and realigning its economic and foreign policies for the benefit of Venezuelans rather than multinational business.

His other offences include urging OPEC to raise oil prices, opposing the brutal trade embargoes against Cuba and Iraq, and maintaining good relations with the strong guerrilla movements in Columbia. Taken together, they add up to the cardinal sin of disobeying los gringos, the penalty for which is meted out in the form of death squads, coups and, when all else fails, direct U.S. military involvement.

Typically, Washington sponsored a murderous coup in 1973 against Salvador Allende, Chile's elected socialist president, for similarly defying its imperial writ. Allende and thousands of unarmed officials and supporters of his goverment were butchered or imprisoned by Chile's military with, as newly released evidence shows, expert coaching from U.S. Naval Intelligence and the CIA.

Then in 1989, the first Bush administration attacked Panama, with air raids and troops, killing hundreds if not thousands, to bring Antonio Noriega to heel after the dictator broke his CIA leash.

Venezuela, however, would be a far tougher nut to crack for Washington. Chavez came to power as leader of a nationalist and populist faction in the armed forces. Though, according to the New York Times, "the [Bush] administration is expected to solidify contacts within the Venezuelan military," it would obviously be far more difficult for it to mount an anti-Chavez grab for power from within its ranks than it was in Chile, where the civilian Allende and his followers had no base in the military

In other words, it may take U.S. troops to save vital Venezuela from its own citizens and make it safe for our corporations again just as in Panama, only far bigger. The most likely scenario is increasing U.S. military involvement in Columbia accompanied by charges that Chavez threatens "our" oil, has "betrayed" his people and is aiding the "Castro-narco terrorists" attacking our troops. For icing on the cake,the media could no doubt cook up a few stories about Chavez eating babies, a la the horror tales spun about Noriega.

Saner heads in the Pentagon and the Bush Administration should appreciate that any major U.S. military involvement south the Rio Grande would set off Latin America's worst nightmare and quite possibly a cataclysm of Indochina proportions.

But hardliners can be expected to argue that Venezuela, one of the world's great oil producers, is far more important than Cuba, Panama or just about any other Latin American country, and therefore worth at least the effort the U.S. made in the Persian Gulf war.

If calmer heads don't prevail and Washington looks like it is getting ever more deeply involved in the Andes, the people of the United States and Latin America will be obliged to intervene. Only they can make sure that Veneuela and Columbia do not turn into Vietnam and Cambodia. Connecticut's Greens should ready themselves to become part of a powerful peace effort.