This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Chavez and His Buddies: Kirchner and Morales

Good afternoon and welcome to Security in South America. I am your host, Sam Logan. For this week’s show, I had planned on sharing information about Operation Twin Oceans, a multi-national sting operation that brought down one of Colombia’s most successful drug trafficking enterprises. Unfortunately, I could not get the US Drug Enforcement Agency to agree to an on the record interview for this podcast.

I did, however, have a very interesting conversation with a colleague in Argentina, parts of which I would like to share with you today.

Julio Cirino is an Argentine journalist and International Analyst that from time to time comments for CNN en espanol. He hosts a radio show in Argentina and writes regularly on politics, security, economy, and energy in South America.

Our conversation covered many topics all over the region, but I’d like to focus on two. First, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, a man Julio refers to as “huguito” or “chavito” as is common in the region, has aligned himself closely with Argentine president Nestor Kirchner. But what, if anything do the two men have in common? Julio provides some interesting insight.

Second, what is Chavez doing to spread his military doctrine through the reigon? It is clear that he would like to be in command of a region-wide army, especially after his speech at the last MercoSur summit, held in Cordoba, Argentina, when he said that MercoSur should be a foundation for a region-wide economic union, like the European Union, as well as a region-wide military to oppose any would-be invaders from imperialist countries.

Julio talks about Chavez’s influence in Bolivia, and how he may have brought the Russians to Argentina’s door.

So let’s begin.

Two things that Hugo Chavez and Nestor Kirchner have in common is power. Both men have consolidated power over their country’s legislative and judicial branches, and both rule by decree. Both men also enjoy a deeply divided opposition that, at times, argues more with itself than the man in power. How do these two men compare? When I put this question to Julio, he had a clever answer: Chavez es Peron con Petroleo. That is, Chavez is much like Kirchner, only he has money, while Kirchner does not.

It is clear that Kirchner depends more and more on Chavez, but what about other leaders in the region? Many would argue that Bolivian president Evo Morales is very close to Chavez. I would argue that he puts Bolivia first, and what ever plans Chavez might have for the region second. But an interesting thing occurred last May. Chavez and his defense minister Raul Baudel visited Bolivia where they met with Evo and the leaders of the Bolivian armed forces. Might they have talked about Chavez’s vision for a regional military? Could the recent sacking of some Bolivian military leaders have been a decision Evo and Chavez made together? If Evo does take advice from Chavez, the military realm is one place Evo is most likely to give Chavez his ear. After all, Evo is a farmer, Chavez is the one with a military background.

When I put this question to Julio, he had some interesting comments, included was his concern that Chavez may have brought the Russians to Argentina.

The Brazilian military is indeed worried. Already discussions about Chavez and his military machine are circling in Brazil’s halls of military leadership in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro. The likelihood of Venezuela’s armed forces joining that of Bolivia is slim, but the implications such a possibility has for regional security are very worrying.

Next week I hope to focus on Bolivia and a manual eradication program there that seems to be taking off. This eradication program is unique because the coca farmers themselves are pulling the plants, not the military or hired citizens. What’s behind this program and it’s chances for wider success outside Bolivia will be discussed.

The full podcast with Julio's comments may be found here.

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