Chávez needs no justification to be belligerant, he just is.
I have a feeling that if the US would enter into a pact to develop Colombian oilfields and export the crude from his western neighbor, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would call it economic subterfuge. There seems to be no claim too preposterous for Chávez when it helps him justify restrictive and combative policies, both foreign and domestic.
For instance, he recently moved to limit the freedom of speech for those who commit “crimes of opinion” against the state. This includes revoking the broadcast rights of various media outlets that are not sympathetic to his “Bolivarian” revolution.
Additionally, Chávez followed allegations that he supported FARC rebels with Swedish weapons with denials to the contrary. Then when new evidence emerged that Chávez had indeed supported FARC rebels, he became defiant; punishing Colombia for his bad deed by freezing diplomatic relations and breaking trade deals.
Now Chávez is claiming that the “winds of war” are festering because of military cooperation between the US and Colombia. This charge is absurd for several reasons, i.e. Colombia’s army is equipped and designed for internal challenges, the US has no interest in provoking a Latin American war, and the FARC is Colombia’s biggest concern, not Chávez – and that is just to name a few. But despite all this, Chávez has used the US-Colombian deal to justify his purchase of tanks from Russia and make calls that the US is in Colombia for Venezuela’s oil.
So, what is the best diplomatic option in a situation like this? Should the US or OAS or other international body make moves to calm the rhetoric? Or is it best to let Chávez’s mouth run its course? My inclination is that the US is best served to carry-on and pay no-mind. Let Chávez grandstand because in the end it will only be just that.
While the sad fact is that the world will have to contend with a belligerant, sabber-rattling Chávez for years to come. Mostly thanks to a combination of co-option, political repression, and oil revenues his regime is likely to last awhile. The good thing about Chávez is he is more likely to talk than walk the walk, and if you don’t count his tacit support of leftist rebels in Colombia then he is likely to do little harm (unless of course you are his opposition in Venezuela).