While imposing additional sanctions on Venezuela could cause adverse short-term economic consequences, Mr. Chavez needs us more than we need him. Venezuelan oil has an extremely high-sulfur content, which requires special refineries to turn it into gasoline. Most of those refineries are in the Southern U.S. along the Gulf Coast. In short, Venezuela would have a very hard time finding other buyers if it loses its most important customer.
And with the increased willingness of Venezuela's military to stand up to Mr. Chavez — not to mention his sinking popularity among the public — the United States is one customer Mr. Chavez can't afford to lose.
Regardless of how events play out, the current diplomatic crisis in Latin America is just the latest evidence that the United States needs a strategic plan for energy independence — for both economic and national security reasons.
The U.S. imports around 11 percent of its oil from Venezuela, although that percentage has declined because of Mr. Chavez political abuse of Venezuela's oil industry, and his expulsion of American companies operating in the Orinoco Belt. Our nation's dependence on foreign energy lines the pockets of Mr. Chavez, and other despotic leaders, giving them the resources to export terrorism and disrupt stability in neighboring countries.
To reduce these despotic leaders' power, we should lift restrictions on domestic production of oil and gas in places like the desolate North Slope of Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf. In addition, we should expedite research into alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power.
Of course, there is something more important at stake than oil — namely, reducing the danger of terrorism. Mr. Chavez has made common cause with Iran, the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism. Mr. Chavez is one of the few leaders to publicly support Iran's nuclear weapons program, and the Iranian mullahs have rewarded Mr. Chavez's friendship with lucrative contracts, including the transfer of Iranian professionals and technologies to Venezuela.
Last year, Mr. Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad revealed plans for a $2 billion joint fund, part of which will be used as a "mechanism for liberation" against U.S. allies. Now there is evidence Mr. Chavez actively supports FARC as part of a strategy to destabilize the Colombian government, which is one of America's best friends in the region. There seems to be no limit to Mr. Chavez's reckless and anti-American ambitions.
March 17, the OAS held its much-anticipated meeting in Washington. Going forward the United States should encourage fence sitters, such as Brazil, to stand behind Colombia and other victims of terrorism. By building a united front against Mr. Chavez's aggression, the United States has an excellent opportunity to strengthen our regional alliances, isolate Venezuela and renew our commitment to peace, prosperity and democracy in the Western Hemisphere.