The New Master of Wizard's Chess: The Real Hugo Chavez and Asymmetric Warfare

By Manwaring, Max G. | Military Review, September-October 2005 | Go to article overview

The New Master of Wizard's Chess: The Real Hugo Chavez and Asymmetric Warfare


Manwaring, Max G., Military Review


BEGINNING WITH the election of Hugo Chavez Frias as President of Venezuela in 1998, the United States and Venezuela have exchanged a continuous series of acrimonious charges and countercharges. Each country has repeatedly argued that the other is engaged in a political, economic, military struggle for Western Hemisphere hegemony. Relatively recently, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega called on the Organization of American States (OAS) to strengthen its Carta Democratica (Democratic Charter) mechanisms to deal more effectively with threats to democracy, stability, and peace in Latin America. (1) In that connection, in testimony before the U.S. Congress in January 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argued that Chavez was minimizing democracy in Venezuela and destabilizing security in the Latin American region. (2) Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Defense supported those arguments and added its concern regarding Venezuelan purchases of large quantities of arms. Then, in February 2005, CIA Director Porter Goss put Venezuela at the top of the list of Latin American countries described as "areas of concern" with the potential of playing a destabilizing role in the region. (3) And, again, in May and June 2005 respectively, Noriega and Rice proposed the creation of a mechanism in the OAS that would monitor the quality of democracy and the exercise of power in Latin America. (4)

Chavez responded to these and similar allegations by saying, "The only destabilizing factor here [in Venezuela] is [U.S. President George W.] Bush." (5) In March, he repeated a familiar theme--that the United States intends to assassinate him and prayed God "save us" from Bush and to "save the world from the true threat [the U.S. Colossus of the North]." (6) Chavez argued also that the intent of his actions was simply to defend the sovereignty and greatness of his country and the region. (7) It is in the context of defending sovereignty and greatness that Chavez consistently returns to the idea of a "Bolivarian Revolution" (bolivarianismo) that is intended to develop the potential of Latin America to achieve Simon Bolivar's dream of South American political-economic integration and grandeza, to reduce U.S. hegemony in the region, and to change the geopolitical map of the Western Hemisphere. (8) In that connection, in April 2005, The Economist reported that Chavez had met with Cuba's Fidel Castro and, among other things, proclaimed a 21st-Century socialist "alternative" to U.S.-style capitalism in the Americas. (9)

Who is this man, Hugo Chavez? How can the innumerable charges and countercharges between the Venezuelan and U.S. governments be interpreted? What are the implications for democracy and stability in Latin America? In an attempt to answer these and related questions, we center our analysis on the contemporary geopolitical conflict context of current Venezuelan "Bolivarian" policy. To accomplish this, a basic understanding of the historical, political, and institutional context within which national security policy is generated is an essential first step toward understanding the situation as a whole. Then, a "levels of analysis" approach will provide a systematic understanding of how geopolitical conflict options have a critical influence on the logic that determines how such a policy as bolivarianismo might be implemented in the contemporary world security arena. This is the point from which we can generate strategic-level recommendations for maintaining and enhancing stability in Latin America. (10)

The Political-Historical Context

Caudillos (strong men)--including "The Liberator," Simon Bolivar, himself--dominated Venezuela in a succession of military dictatorships from Independence to 1958. During that period of over 100 years, more than 20 constitutions were drafted, promulgated, and ignored. More than 50 armed revolts took their toll of life and property. …

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