As Chávez gains Latin American stature, analysts wonder about implications for US
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has become increasingly involved in the affairs of his Latin American neighbors, often as a direct challenge to the US.
Venuzuelan President Hugo Chávez, a leftist who has criticized the US for interfering in the affairs of other nations, has begun pursuing a policy of regional interventions in Latin America. This week he will travel to Colombia to try to convince the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a rebel movement, to release 45 hostages who have been held for years. He has also begun supplying neighboring nations with large sums of economic aid and purchasing large stocks of weapons from abroad, often with the intent of openly challenging the US.Skip to next paragraph
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President Chávez will arrive in Bogotá on Friday at the request of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe – a close US ally. He will try to gain the release of the hostages – three of whom are American – by offering to exchange hundreds of FARC rebels currently detained in Colombian jails. While he looks unlikely to score any quick successes, the Associated Press reports that getting involved may be a gamble worth taking for the ambitious Chávez, who has used soaring oil revenues to increase Venezuela's aid to neighbors and to support left-wing causes.
Chavez unabashedly targets the US government and his detractors in countries from Mexico to Spain with incendiary rhetoric, but has seldom involved himself so directly with the internal affairs of another nation. He has long sought to maintain cordial relations with the US-allied Uribe despite their ideological differences.
If he succeeds in Colombia, he could expand his influence and improve his image.
Expanding influence has been a focus for Chávez since taking office in 1998, but his efforts have really gained traction in recent years thanks to the leverage created by soaring oil prices. Venezuela now provides more direct aid to Latin American and Caribbean states than Chávez's ideological enemy, the US, reports the Associated Press. So far this year, Chávez's government has made $8.8 billion in aid commitments. That is creating concerns in some quarters about the likely impact on US interests, especially coming from a leader who has called President George W. Bush "The Devil," and described current US policies as a threat to the survival of the human race.
Over the weekend, Reuters reported that Chávez said he was planning on making a major purchase of sniper rifles from Russia and implied they could be used to defend the country from the US.
"I'm going to buy 5,000 Dragunov rifles from Russia ... with telescopic sight, the best in the world, with infrared night-view," Chavez said during his weekly Sunday broadcast held on a beach along Venezuela's eastern coast.
"We will knock out any imperialist that approaches."