Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Upcoming Elections in Venezuela.

The Upcoming Elections in Venezuela.
By Nicole M. Ferrand.*

On November 23, 2008 regional elections will be held in Venezuela. Citizens will head to the polls to elect 22 governors, 328 mayors as well as 233 legislators to the state legislative councils and 13 councilors to district committees — including indigenous representation — totaling 603 positions. These will be the first elections to be held since President Hugo Chavez founded the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, PSUV in Spanish).

For a majority of Venezuelans these elections are an opportunity to put a stop to Chavez’s plans to stay in power and impose a socialist model in the country and they are encouraged by the polls which give the opposition the upper hand in many localities.

Although Chávez is not running, he is vociferously campaigning for the PSUV’s candidates. His public appearances have been marked by a violent and threatening rhetoric which has convinced voters that he is afraid of losing important positions to the opposition.
“Mobsters, mafia, thugs, shameless, crooks, traitors, imperial pawns, bandits, thugs, cowards, drug dealers or terrorists" are some of the epithets that Chávez has used to label opposition candidates throughout the electoral campaign. He has gone as far as publicly saying that if the opposition wins the upcoming elections, he will launch a “military plan” or “Plan Chávez” to be deployed in the states and municipalities in which his party has been defeated. “No one should forget that this is a peaceful revolution, yet it is one that bears arms.” “I beg you not to betray our people” and warned that only two options exist: “A socialist nation or death.”[1] For Chávez, the upcoming election is pivotal to secure his hold on power.

Why the Violent Speeches?
Many believe that the increasingly negative polls that give independents favorable results are troubling Hugo Chavez and are convinced that he is using the same strategy that has worked for him in the past: in order to win he needs to polarize voters. All along his ultimate goal has been to change the Constitution so that he can stay in power for life and to achieve this, the PSUV needs to score enough votes in November.

He has directly attacked candidates such as Pablo Pérez: “Now they want to put an imbecile in the governor’s office to do whatever he (current Zulia state Governor Manuel Rosales) says,” and “I am speaking nothing but the truth; now he (Rosales) wants to have an imbecile as governor, an imbecile who cannot even speak properly.” In reference to the opposition candidate to the Mayor’s Office of the Sucre Municipality Carlos Ocariz, Chávez said: “Someone named Ocariz, who wants to be mayor of Petare, a rich boy. We are going to swat away those rich kids, born with a silver spoon in their mouths.”

The states at stake are Zulia, Miranda, Carabobo, Lara, Táchira, Anzoátegui, Bolivar and Aragua. Of these, all but Zulia are today in the hands of Chavismo and according to the polls, it is likely that more than half will fall into the oppositions’ hands. Of the 24 regional districts at stake, the Chavismo holds 22 and the opposition holds only Margarita and the wealthy state of Zulia.

According to the Electoral Commission which Chavez controls, he was reelected as President of Venezuela in 2006 with 63% of the vote. He has appealed to the poor through his populist measures funded by constantly increasing oil prices. At the time, he was on top of the world but since then he has lost many battles. In December, 2007, his wish to change the constitution and to stay in power was defeated in the referendum and according to the results, he will have to leave the Presidency in 2013. In addition the special powers he pursued to secure a socialist model were rejected by the voters.

He knows his popularity has suffered major setbacks in recent months and that this will be seen in the results of November 23rd. Among his least popular moves was the closing down of the RCTV television station, whose soap operas were a favorite among many nationals including Chavista voters. In addition, public services and utilities are collapsing and in recent months Venezuela has had three national blackouts which lasted several hours each. The health system has been increasingly criticized and major cities are literally under garbage. The fall in the price of oil and inflation reaching 40% as well as high crime rates are only making matters worse.

Internationally, he also suffered a loss of support. When the laptops of FARC leader, Raul Reyes, were seized in Ecuador, evidence surfaced that Chavez was a long time FARC supporter and had even financed their internal war, giving them sanctuary inside Venezuela, supplying them with weapons and actively working with them to undermine the government of Colombia. This information didn’t sit well with Venezuelans or with many in the international community.

All of the above plus his enormous expenditures on advanced weaponry have made people uneasy about having him as President and fear his totalitarian style and increased radicalization to the left. They know Venezuela and Chavez are considered pariahs by many democracies in the world and emphatically disagree with their president’s choice of new allies such as Iran and Russia since they have nothing in common. They want to follow a new path towards progress and Chavez is clearly taking them in the opposite direction.

Banning Candidates
On August 5, 2008, in an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court ruled that the 270 candidates that had been banned from running in November’s state and municipal elections were constitutional. The list of barred candidates was issued by Venezuela’s anti-corruption chief and Chavez’s ally, Clodosbaldo Russian. He said the law gave him the right to impose restrictions on potential candidates “suspected of corruption.” The opposition was and is still adamantly saying that the ban was unconstitutional because none of the potential candidates have been convicted of a crime, stating that the disqualification was politically motivated since it affected key opponents of the PSUV. Even the European Parliament condemned the government’s move as a violation of human rights.

In spite of this, the opposition has managed to unite and run single candidates in most districts and is likely to win in Zulia, Carabobo, and Miranda. If we add the Caracas metropolitan district, the opposition could obtain almost 40% of the vote.

Manuel Rosales
The focus of Chavez’s rage is the former presidential challenger, current Zulia State governor and now an opposition candidate for Mayor of Venezuela’s western city of Maracaibo, Manuel Rosales. Rosales has accused the regional police of engaging in a politically-motivated campaign of intimidation “because the central government in Caracas knows that it is about to lose on November 23.[2] The Chavez administration has threatened to either disqualify or jail him which would remove Mr. Rosales from the political scene. This would make it very difficult for the opposition to have a unified leader to fight the President’s intentions to change the Constitution. In addition when the Comptroller says that the governor of Zulia could be banned for fifteen years from running for office, it means that even if the “corruption” accusations have not been proven, authorities already have formed an opinion as to what the penalty will be.[3] Chavez knows that if Rosales does a good job as he did as governor, he may well challenge him in the next presidential elections.

[1] Chávez's War. November 7, 2008. El Universal, Venezuela.
[2] Chavez government campaign of intimidation seeks to link Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales with State Lottery fraud. October 22, 2008. P-R Inside.

[3] Chavez government campaign of intimidation seeks to link Zulia Governor Manuel Rosales with State Lottery fraud. October 22, 2008. P-R Inside.
“There is a campaign of intimidation, a putrefaction, a dirty war against us in Zulia.” Rosales has said. The authorities are trying to claim that in Zulia a fraud has been committed, but they are grasping allegations out of thin air by linking Manuel Rosales with the bandits and thieves they are, without shame, themselves,” declared Rosales who is being accused of allowing the permanent presence of paramilitaries and arms-traffickers in the State.[1]

When asked about the reasons Chavez feels threatened by him, Rosales responded: “Zulia, both strategically and politically, is the most important state in Venezuela ... it has the largest electoral base ... and they (Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela-PSUV) want to win there taking advantage of the fact that I am stepping down from the governorship. They have lately discovered that Pablo Perez (the opposition candidate to replace Rosales) has a 16 to 20 point advantage in all the surveys. The other thing is that I also remain a candidate for Mayor of Maracaibo, which is, in electoral terms, extremely important, and we have a 42 to 45 point advantage there, too. He (Chavez) sure got angry when we denounced their eagerness to put the Sierra del Perija (the northernmost branch of the Andes, marking the Venezuelan border with Colombia) at the service of the Colombian FARC and, of course, we’ve been unwavering in our criticism of his personal militaristic projects taking place behind a facade of democracy.”[2]

It is clear that the Chavista camp is now worried. Although intimidation and consolidation of his authority has brought him results in the past, at this stage to show this nervousness just days before the elections, seems not to be a strategy but the result of desperation as polls show that the PSUV will lose ground and that Chavez will emerge weaker after November 23. He has even gone so far as to declare that he might send tanks onto the streets in the state of Carabobo if the opposition wins.

Chavez’s tactics are anything but democratic and no international agency, not even the Carter Center, should validate this election as free and fair because it clearly has not been and will not be. This is especially true if the results drastically differ from what the polls show which currently give the opposition a clear lead over the PSUV. It should surprise no one if Rosales is jailed or detained before the elections. November 23rd is an opportunity for Venezuelans to express their disapproval of Chavez and his ever more dictatorial actions. If he is not stopped now, it will become increasingly more difficult to stop him in the future.

*Nicole M. Ferrand is a research analyst and editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center for Security Policy in Washington DC. (www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org). She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.

[1] Ibid.
[2] Ibid.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Upcoming Russian – Venezuelan Naval Exercises.

The Upcoming Russian – Venezuelan Naval Exercises.
By Benjamin Miller*
Russia has dispatched part of its Northern Fleet to the Caribbean for the country’s first ever naval exercises with Venezuela. The exercises, scheduled to take place November 10th-14th, will include a number of Russian and Venezuelan warships. Namely, the nuclear-powered heavy missile cruiser, Peter the Great, as well as the Admiral Chabanenko (an Anti-Submarine Warship) will be directly involved in the exercises. Intentionally ambiguous statements issued by the Russian government allow only for speculation regarding their motives behind the scheduled incursion into the Southern Hemisphere. The departure time of the Russian naval group, however, is peculiarly close to recently voiced Russian grievances about U.S. ships deployed on aid and relief missions in the Black Sea. Indeed, Putin’s prompt warning regarding the U.S. presence, “Our response will be calm, not hysterical, but there will definitely be a response,”[1] supports the notion that there is a significant political message being conveyed to the United States government.
[1] NOVOSTI: Russian News and Information Agency
Political messaging aside, the purposeful nature of Russia’s relationship with Venezuela over the past six years indicates that these naval exercises represent the newest phase of their plan to develop a strategic alliance with the anti-U.S. government of Hugo Chavez. As indicated in last week’s article of the Americas Report, Russian weapons exports to Venezuela have increased substantially over the past 5 years. According to a Jane’s Defense Business Article, the impact of Russian exports on the region is significant:

“Latin America accounted for just 7.7 per cent of Russia's total foreign defense sales during 2006 (according to Moscow's Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies), but Venezuela alone accounted for 16 per cent of all military exports in 2007. Defense and aerospace contracts valued at USD3 billion were signed by the two countries in June 2006 to coincide with a visit to Moscow by Chávez.”[1]

While sources indicate that these specific movements will be oriented towards rescue and communication operations, it is possible that artillery and counter-terrorist training operations could take place as well. Moreover, Venezuelan Defense Minister Gustavo Rangel has said that military cooperation with Russia would prepare Venezuela to face possible U.S. “threats,” citing the reactivation of the U.S. 4th Fleet for Latin America and the Caribbean.[2] This appears to be a logical conclusion given the vast capabilities of the Russian fleet on its way.

Jon Rosamund, editor of Jane's Navy International, makes a good point about the main ship of the Russian fleet heading this way, “On paper it's [Peter the Great] an immensely powerful ship…We are not really sure if this is a show of force or if it poses a viable operational capability at this stage.”
Frank Mora, a Latin America expert at the National Defense University in Washington, also notes that Venezuela has little to contribute to the upcoming exercises. "They have a couple of destroyers, a couple of old submarines, and frigates that can launch surface-to-air missiles -- not anything sophisticated or robust. This would not be a robust exercise. It would be more about indicating strategic cooperation.”[3]
[1] Jane’s, “Russia extends $1bn loan to Venezuela for defense purchases” by Guy Anderson. 9/30/08
[2] Defense News, “Russian Warships Depart for Venezuela Maneuvers”. 9/22/08
[3] CNN: “Russian Ships to Visit Venezuela; Naval Exercises Possible”. 9/9/08
Why is it that Venezuela’s current inability to pose a direct threat to the United States remains a core issue in the discussion pertaining to these naval exercises? For that matter, why has the notion of a Russian nuclear missile cruiser basking in the Caribbean remained unaddressed? Whether or not Venezuela currently has the world-class hardware capable of posing a direct threat to the United States is both irrelevant and distracting. The recent contracts for 5-Kilo-class attack submarines, the other advanced weapons purchases, the talks of shared nuclear energy and oil technology…these are the core issues which should be of concern. The prospect of Russia sponsoring the creation of a nuclear Venezuela in the near future has real-time policy implications and, as indicated in a recent article by The Associated Press, is clearly on the agenda of both governments.

“Russia is ready to support Venezuela in the development of nuclear energy with peaceful purposes and we already have a commission working on it," Chavez said. "We are interested in developing nuclear energy.” [1] If nothing else, November 10th-14th will serve as one more piece of incontrovertible evidence that there is a focused effort by both countries to try to make Venezuela the dominant military power in the region.

In addition to its stop in the Caribbean, it has been speculated that the Russian fleet could stop in Syria as part of a broader show of force in the Mediterranean. Undisclosed sources have indicated that Russian engineers are expanding the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia to serve a more significant strategic purpose, “The possibility of basing aircraft carriers and missile cruisers there is foreseen,” the source told Russian newspaper, Izvestia. It is worth mentioning that the ports in Syria hosted a Soviet naval supply base and served as allies to Moscow during the Cold War. The likelihood of an impromptu port call in Syria has increased considering the recent controversy over the cross-border raids by the U.S. military into Syrian territory.

It is important to point out that the flagrant Russian support for those who would seek to intimidate and harm the U.S. is in no way comparable to our relief efforts underway in the Caucuses. The policy goal of the United States is to promote democracy and freedom among the sovereign peoples of every region, not just those within the former Soviet Union. This is a far cry from Moscow’s policy of supporting non-transparent dictatorships, similar to their own, in its efforts to sabotage true democracy for the purposes of re-establishing its withered sphere of influence. Russia’s provocative responses raise a number of important questions: How deep is the United States willing to allow the Russians to cement themselves in Latin America? How many more naval exercises and weapons shipments will it take for Putin to tip the balance of power in Latin America in his favor? Are the Russians initiating a military buildup similar to the one seen with Cuba in 1962? These are questions which should be carefully analyzed. Hopefully, the United States is not so distracted elsewhere in the world that it ignores this situation and the threat it poses to hemispheric security.

Relevant Russian Naval Specs:
Peter the Great”: Kirov Class (Type 1144.2) Nuclear-Powered Heavy Missile Cruiser.[2]
· 20 Granit anti-ship missiles (500kt nuclear warhead or 750kg HE warhead) [3]
· S-300F Air Defense Missile Complex (96 missiles in 12 vertical launchers),
· Osa-MA autonomous antiaircraft missile system
· Kashtan missile/gun air defense system
· Anti-sub counter measures (20 missiles and 40 rockets)
· 30mm and 130mm artillery batteries.
· Carries two KA-27 helicopters

Admiral Chabanenko”: ASW ship (Anti-Submarine Warfare) [4]
· 2 x 4 Moscit (SS-N-22 anti-air missile)
· 8 x 8 Kinzhal VLS (SA-N-9)
· 2 SA Kortik (SA-N-11)
· Upgraded sonar and defense measures.
· Anti-sub, anti-aircraft, and anti-ship capabilities via various torpedo and missile platforms.
[1] The Associated Press, “Venezuela to build nuclear technology with Russia”. By Christopher Toothaker. 9/28/08
[2] Naval-Technology.com
[3] FAS
[4] Federation of American Scientists
*Benjamin Miller is an intern at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of California San Diego and has a BA in Political Science, with a focus on Latin American and Middle Eastern Affairs.

The Russian – Venezuelan Strategic Alliance.

The Russian – Venezuelan Strategic Alliance.
By Benjamin Miller* with Nancy Menges.*
As relations between the U.S. and Russia have continued to deteriorate, Moscow has increasingly looked for opportunities to get even with Washington. Exactly what prompted this shift in foreign relations can be traced directly to Putin’s concerns pertaining to NATO expansion and American aide relief to former Soviet republics such as Georgia. It is no secret that Russia has continued to sell advanced weapons systems and technology to countries like Libya, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and China despite shared intelligence linking several of these governments to illicit trade and terror networks. Likewise, one need only follow the money trail to see that Russia has now set its sights on Latin America and particularly on Venezuela.
According to the National Budget Office, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has tripled his country’s defense budget since 2000 to a whopping$3.3 billion in 2008. Chavez's biggest purchases from Russia came in 2006 when, in that year alone, he signed deals for over $3 billion in weapons.[1] Between 2004 and 2005 Venezuela
doubled the value of the major conventional weapons it imported from$13million to $27million.

This number then sky-rocketed to $406 million over the next 12 months, causing Venezuela to surpass other nations such as Argentina, France, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan in the index.[1] The large majority of the weapons it received came directly from Russia.

History has shown that oil-based power politics can be used as a valuable weapon. Both Putin and Chavez understand this better than anyone, for it is these very tactics that allow them to consolidate and maintain power at home while projecting power abroad.
Russia’s petro-giants, GAZPROM and LUKOIL, along with Venezuela’s PDVSA, recently agreed to form what will be the largest oil consortium in the world.[1] The deal includes the joint exploration of untapped Venezuelan oil fields in addition to shared crude-oil refining technology. The plan is for Russia to build two oil refineries in Venezuela.
This is very much in line with Mr. Chavez’s pronouncements that he wants to find markets for his oil other than having to depend principally on the U.S. as his main buyer. Since China is also in the process of building three refineries in China to process Venezuelan crude, Chavez’s goal of cutting off the United States might be possible in three to five years. As proven by the OPEC crisis of 1973, oil and other natural resources can, and will be used as weapons by those who would cripple the global economy in an attempt to put a squeeze on the United States. By equipping leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez with the military and economic means by which to dominate entire regions and their subsequent markets, Russia is positioning itself to cause massive hemorrhaging in our hemispheric security structure.

The Hardware
Scholars continue to draw similarities between recent Chavez-Putin brokered military deals and those struck by Castro and Gorbachev in October of 1962. While it may be argued that any strategic threat comparison of the two scenarios is an elastic one at best, the substance of such an argument is limited to the specific weapons capabilities of the respective hardware involved.

To date Russia has sold Venezuela[1]:
· Twenty-four Su-30MK fighter jets[2]
· Fifty or more military helicopters (Mi-17’s, Mi-35’s, Mi-26’s)[3]
· At least five Kilo-Class attack submarines[4]
· 100,000 AK-47’s as well as rights to a manufacturing facility[5]
[1] All figures were confirmed through the Library of Congress using the databases from
*The Military Balance 2008. Published by Routledge for the International Institute for Strategic Studies
*SIPRI Yearbook 2007, “Armaments, Disarmament, and International Security”. Oxford University Press 2007.
In addition to the pending delivery of Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile systems, the most recent meeting between the two countries coincided with Russian military exercises showcasing the deployment of the Tochka (Scarab-1) short range ballistic missile platform for President Chavez. If there are doubts about Russian ability or intent to sell this type of hardware, one need only look at their transaction records with nations like Iran and Syria. The delivery of 29 Tor-M1 systems to Iran was the most controversial export of 2006[1] and Syria has already purchased multiple Scarab-1 platforms[2]. This meeting yielded a $1billion Venezuelan line of credit with which to buy other Russian armaments. Additionally, Russia has promised Venezuela a large order of T-72 Main Battle Tanks and BMP-3 armored infantry combat vehicles. While these weapons platforms are incapable of deploying nuclear payloads against the continental U.S., they greatly enhance Venezuela’s ability to launch conventional attacks and ultimately to attain regional military dominance.

Chavez’s Plan
Chavez is a cunning and rational adversary. Both his long and short term agendas to uproot opposition to his control of the Venezuelan economy, military, and political system are clear in light of his ongoing efforts at military consolidation and constitutional reform. While he remains adamantly anti-American in his policies, the Venezuelan leader is well aware that a direct attack against the United States would be political and military suicide. Chavez understands that operating under the auspices of Russia provides him increased elasticity in dealing with the United States, and it would be unwise to place Venezuela in a situation where it could be left isolated and devoid of fruitful international allies such as Russia and China. It is logical then, to deduce that Chavez’s new arsenal is intended to augment his broader hegemonic strategy in the region as a tool of coercion.

That being said, U.S. military personnel operating out of regional drug-trafficking monitoring locations and more permanent forward operating locations (FOLs) are significantly more vulnerable as a result of these weapons. These tactical anchors play a vital role in U.S. counter-terrorism and narco-trafficking operations in the region, and are on the verge of collapse. It is definite that the U.S. base at Manta, Ecuador will not be renewed by the Correa government when our lease there expires in 2009. Of the other two U.S. FOLs in the region, it is likely that the one in Honduras will be removed because of their recent turn towards more Chavista like policies. The simple truth of the matter is that a growing Russian-Venezuelan strategic alliance, when combined with a potential decrease of United States regional influence, is directly affecting American hemispheric security interests. To our regional allies such as Colombia, who has been fighting against a forty year long FARC insurgency and is actively engaged in the fight for democracy, the Venezuelan-Russian threat is an imminent one.

*Benjamin Miller is an intern at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of California San Diego and has a BA in Political Science, with a focus on Latin American and Middle Eastern Affairs.

* Nancy Menges is co-founder of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project at the Center and Editor-in-Chief of the Americas Report.

[1] The Military Balance 2008, “Russia: Arms Trade”. Pp 210.
[2] Defense and Security (Russia)

[2] http://www.airforce-technology.com/projects/su_30mk/index.html
[3] Defense and Security (Russia), “Luring Chavez…” September 29th, 2008. Taken from LexisNexis.com
[4] http://www.nti.org/db/submarines/russia/export.html, “Russia Export Behavior”.
[5] NTI: “Russia Export Behavior”.
[1] Business News Americas

[1] SIPRI Yearbook 2007, “Armaments, Disarmament and International Security”. Oxford University Press 2007. Page 419 Table 10A.1