Curaçao buffeted as it plays host to US military site, Venezuelan business interests
US vessels have been making frequent calls. The island also hosts US surveillance planes.
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Kamp, now a parliamentarian, declined to comment, and officials from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not return phone calls. "The Dutch point of view is that Venezuela is entitled … to have military exercises with befriended nations," said Ministry of Kingdom Affairs spokesperson Mireille Beentjes. "There are no consequences foreseen for the Kingdom of the Netherlands" from this week's naval exercises, "and therefore no measures will be taken."Skip to next paragraph
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"I think we should keep an eye on Venezuela, but we do not need to be really worried," says Michiel van der Veur, who teaches international relations at the University of the Netherlands Antilles here. He says Chávez has a pattern of testing the US government. "I doubt he will let it get into a real military showdown at this moment. Perhaps if the American economy – and as a result, its military strength – will deteriorate further, he might estimate his chances differently."
US naval vessels have been making frequent port calls here, an indication of the growing importance of the island to counternarcotics missions. In 2000, Washington secured a long-term agreement to base surveillance aircraft in Curaçao and in El Salvador, to replace Howard Air Force Base in Panama, which was being closed. The US will lose its operating base in Manta, Ecuador, next year, as the government did not renew its governing agreement.
A spokseperson for US Southern Command, Jose Ruiz, said it was too early to speculate what effect the closure of Manta would have on the other sites. "Curacao is strategically located to be able to monitor the Caribbean basin," he said. "It's an effective position with which to conduct monitoring flights and to track traffic that we suspect may have contraband."
Meanwhile, Russia is trying to expand its influence in the region, according to John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org in Washington. "[They] are just looking for ways to annoy the Americans," he says. "They're asserting that Moscow is against global power with friends all over the world."
Mr. Pike says the Russo-Venezuelan maneuvers are symbolic, and don't present real danger to the Netherlands Antilles. "But then, all military operations and exercises are symbolic until the shooting starts."