Venezuela: Spirit of the Monroe Doctrine

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Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Recent events in the South American country of Venezuela are disturbing, or at least should be to all clear-thinking people.

While the Venezuelan regime of strong-man Hugo Chavez is systematically acquiring absolute power by nationalizing that country's industries and resources and silencing their free media outlets, Mr. Chavez himself is forging relationships with totalitarian dictators who routinely call for the demise of the United States. To dismiss this tin-pot dictator as a clown in a post September 11, 2001, world could be a fatal mistake.

The sometimes violent protests in the streets of Caracas by outraged students, intellectuals and free thinkers came in the wake of the Chavez regime closing of a popular opposition television station critical of Mr. Chavez's government. Radio Caracas Television was replaced with state-run programming as the Venezuelan ministry overseeing media licensing clamped down on CNN and the last opposition-owned media outlet in Venezuela, Globovision.

Mr. Chavez's attack on the free press in Venezuela is but the most recent encroachment on the free market in that country.

In May, Mr. Chavez nationalized the last privately owned oil fields in the Orinoco River basin. While the seizure affected U.S. oil companies ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp., Britain's BP PLC, France's Total SA and Norway's Statoil ASA were also compromised.

On May 3, Mr. Chavez gave a speech forecasting nationalization of the country's banks and its largest steel-producing company. In an indication he had no plans of throttling-down his advance toward a pure socialistic state, Mr. Chavez said, "Private banks have to give priority to financing the industrial sectors of Venezuela at low cost. .. If banks don't agree with this, it's better that they go, that they turn over the banks to me, that we nationalize them and get all the banks to work for the development of the country and

not to speculate and produce huge profits" Mr. Chavez left the world wondering whether this confiscation of private financial institutions - which would include all the assets held within - would include foreign banks.

Earlier this year, Mr. Chavez moved to nationalize the utility and telecommunications industries of Venezuela. "All of that which was privatized, let it be nationalized," he said. "The nation should recover its ownership of strategic sectors."

It would seem Hugo Chavez is Fidel Castro's star pupil, having learned how to absorb already developed resources, industries built from the ground up and financial investments that literally constructed the infrastructure that his totalitarian crusade now calls "the people's."

All this would almost certainly be just another thorn in the side of free nations everywhere if it weren't for Mr. Chavez's consistent anti-American rhetoric and the alliances he is forging around the world.

He has allied himself with fellow South American socialists, or progressives, Rafael Correra of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Nicanor Duarte Frutos of Paraguay and has formed a personal tie with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

One reason these relationships are so disturbing is that intelligence sources, police organizations and former militia members report Hezbollah has set up operations within the rural regions known as South America's Tri-Border Area. …