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INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS -
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Chavez arming to fight attack by U.S.

Posted in the database on Sunday, February 13th, 2005 @ 19:03:15 MST (2318 views)
by Phil Gunson and Steven Dudley    Miami Herald  

Untitled Document CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has long been known for his harsh anti-Bush rhetoric. But now he's stepping up military plans and weapons purchases to match his combative tone, and he is worrying U.S. policymakers.

Within the past two weeks the leftist populist leader has called himself a ''socialist'' and ''Fidelista,'' and offered a muscular new course for his self-described ''revolution'' on behalf of Venezuela's poor.

''I propose that we move to the offensive, just like the imperialists have moved to the bloody and ruthless offensive. If you don't believe me, look at Iraq . . .'' Chávez told a news conference in Brazil late last month.

''We have to embrace socialism as a thesis,'' he continued, in what observers said was his most direct public reference to his socialist views. He later added that any attack on Cuba or Venezuela ``would be an attack on both.''

Chávez has called President Bush the devil and worse, and he regularly blames Washington for a 2002 coup attempt against him. Critics brand him a would-be dictator, but Chávez has won two democratic elections and fended off a recall referendum just last year.

Still, his latest comments worry U.S. policymakers, mostly because they coincide with his push to obtain new weaponry and forge a new national military doctrine that would prepare his country for a war of resistance against a possible U.S. invasion.

Simultaneously, Chávez has said he is placing the 50,000 soldiers of the military reserve directly under his control and organizing his civilian supporters into armed militias to be known as ``popular defense units.''

OIL A COMPLICATION

Although U.S. officials have dismissed the idea of a military attack on Venezuela, they have expressed concern over Chávez' new stance since Venezuela remains the fourth-largest supplier of oil to the United States.

Earlier this week, the State Department's assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, Roger Noriega, challenged Chávez's efforts to create the militias and his purchase of 40 Russian helicopters and 100,000 AK-47 assault rifles.

Noriega told a TV interviewer that the weapons could end up in ''the hands of some criminal and irregular groups'' -- an apparent reference to leftist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia with whom Chávez has been accused of sympathizing.

Vice President José Vicente Rangel responded swiftly to Noriega's comments, saying they had ''the deliberate goal of provoking Venezuela'' and that the new guns would replace old weaponry.

The heightened U.S.Venezuela tensions coincide with new strategies for bilateral relations in both countries.

After years of Washington's trying to avoid confrontations with Chávez, a new U.S. ''policy review'' is expected soon to recommend trying to isolate Venezuela from its neighbors.

''We've tried to establish common ground with the Venezuelan government,'' Noriega said in the television interview. ``But, unfortunately, President Chávez has sabotaged our efforts.''

For his part, Chávez has been trying to extricate Venezuela from the U.S. economic sphere of influence by forging ties with countries such as China and Argentina and hinting that he may sell Venezuela's U.S. gasoline and refining business, Citgo.

But it is Venezuela's attempt to procure arms and create militias that has made the U.S. government jumpy.

''Even if these are to replace the older weapons, where are these older models going to go?'' wondered one State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity. ``They're old. It doesn't mean they're useless.''

Other deals include the purchase of the 40 helicopters and the possible purchase of 50 Russian-made MiG 29 fighter jets. Media reports from Washington say the United States has petitioned Russia to rethink the sales.

While some officials worry that the AK-47s could end up in Colombian rebels' hands, others believe the weapons acquisition is a reasonable part of Chávez's shift in military doctrine.

As described by Gen. Melvin López, head of the National Defense Council (Venezuela's equivalent to the National Security Council), the new doctrine would focus on an ''asymmetric war'' -- a conflict between a superior and an inferior fighting force, like those in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Under the new doctrine, the only way to fend off a superior enemy is by using guerrilla tactics -- hence Chávez's efforts to create militia groups and bulk up reserve units.

In recent statements, López said asymmetrical war would involve ``the participation of the whole population; adapting ourselves to the geopolitical [situation] of the country.''

Chávez recently said the new popular defense units would comprise 10 to 500 members each and would fall outside the normal military hierarchy and directly under the president's command, in effect creating Chávez's own, private revolutionary army. They are to be organized ``in the barrio, in the factory.''

If the ''imperialists'' intervene in Venezuela, Chávez added, ``they will face the people . . . ready to defend their sovereignty, their country and their dignity.''

OTHERS' TECHNIQUES

Venezuela's new strategy comes from the same roots as 'the prolonged popular war of Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap in Asia, and `the war of all the people' in Cuba,' '' said one of the Chávez government's ideologues, Mexico-based academic Heinz Dieterich.

Cuba has long projected the ''war of all the people'' not only as the strategy it would use to wear down and eventually defeat a possible U.S. invasion but as the kind of aggressive posture that might even deter a U.S. attack.

That is not far from the vision of Gen. Alberto Müeller, a studied military tactician as well as a former senator and Chávez campaign aide. Müeller is expected to be named to the special government commission that will put the country's new military doctrine in writing.

In an interview with The Herald, Müeller said the new doctrine of ''decentralized defense'' was to signal the United States not to attack.



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