Austin Bay

Hugo Chavez's Venezuelan revolution has become a bitter joke. His nation's economy is collapsing. His archrivals in neighboring Colombia just held a legitimate national election that strengthened their hand against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Marxist drug army Chavez backs. This week, the Organization of American States (OAS) will convene to consider Colombia's evidence. The Colombian military reportedly has the grid co-ordinates of FARC camps inside Venezuela.

Though the former right-wing paratrooper remains a darling of the international political left, Venezuelans know Chavez is responsible for their current economic and political nightmare. The dictator has squandered Venezuela's oil windfall and enriched his political cronies.

So Chavez rattles sabers and threatens war in order to divert increasing domestic opposition. At the moment, Colombia isn't his primary target -- its military is too strong. The Caribbean island of Curacao, however, lying just off the Venezuelan coast, provides Chavez with a convenient enemy both geographically and politically.

Thus far the bully's threats have been gunboat hype and showboat hoopla. The question is, will bluster give way to bombs? An expansionary ideology propels Chavez, one that inflates his already explosive ego. He bills himself as the new Simon Bolivar, who will reunite the South American continent while cowing the United States and other imperialists -- like the Dutch.

Which is where Curacao enters Hugo's gunsights. Though the Dutch West Indies no longer formerly exists as a political entity, Holland retains responsibility for Curacao's defense and other foreign policy-related matters.

Chavez uses the term "Chavismo" (think Fidel Castro's "Fidelismo") to describe his political concoction of populism, machismo, socialism and caudilloism. Chavismo's most potent international media tool, however, is relentless anti-Americanism. Curacao, which currently hosts a U.S. base for drug interdiction efforts, is thus a diplomatic two-fer for attacking alleged European and Yankee imperialists.

Recently, he accused the U.S. of planning an attack on Venezuelan using the base at Curacao.

Why take his latest threats seriously? Though Chavez is clearly playing to a domestic audience by hyping a Yankee invasion, political change is occurring in several former Dutch Caribbean colonies. Curacao wants greater autonomy, similar to Holland's arrangements with Aruba, another island near Venezuela. The new political arrangements are supposed to take effect in October 2010.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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