Castro's Stooge in South America: Though Ousted by a Recent Coup, Venezuela's Marxist President Hugo Chavez Was Brought Back to Power by His Goon Squads -- the Bolivarian Circles -- with a Little Help from Cuba. (Venezuela)

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At the recent Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico, Venezuela's Marxist President Hugo Chavez was one of the centers of media attention. Poised and confident at a press conference, Chavez parried aggressive questions with almost Clintonesque self-assurance. What was his reaction to reports that the Bush administration was "worried" about Venezuela? "I appreciate their concern," replied Chavez. "I am worried about the United States, too, especially with all the problems they're facing after September 11th." Was Chavez concerned about the crisis in Venezuela? "The crisis," he answered unwaveringly, "is ending." But what about rumors of a coup d'etat? "Nothing to worry about," he scoffed. "Everything is under control."

Yet scarcely three weeks passed before a military coup ousted Chavez. A popular strike and bloodshed in the streets of Caracas -- after Chavez supporters opened fire on crowds of anti-Chavez marchers -- convinced military leaders that the left-wing elected strongman was unfit to rule.

However, two days after Chavez was removed from Miraflores, the presidential palace, he returned triumphantly from captivity to reclaim the presidency. By every indication, the short-lived coup on April 11th was Hugo Chavez' Bay of Pigs. Like the failed coup against Castro 41 years ago, Chavez remains more firmly entrenched than ever following the recent half-hearted attempt to supplant him.

Checkered Career

Chavez is no stranger to coup attempts. In February 1992, the former paratrooper, who had formed with fellow military officers the secret Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement (MBR) to plot the overthrow of the government, launched a violent but unsuccessful coup attempt in which 18 people were killed. Nine months later, while Chavez languished in jail, other MBR members attempted a second unsuccessful coup.

Chavez was eventually pardoned and released from prison. He then turned the MBR into an open political movement, the MVR or Movement of the Fifth Republic. Running on a leftist populist platform, Chavez was elected Venezuela's president in December 1998. He lost no time in creating a special assembly to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution, approved in 1999. He also has moved aggressively to strengthen state control over Venezuela's oil industry. Known for his outspoken -- at times outrageous -- public persona, Chavez has called the Venezuelan oligarchy "squealing pigs."

Were those the only sins of Hugo Chavez, he'd rate no more than brief mention as yet another socialism-spewing, anti-American, third-world military despot. But during his checkered career, Chavez has developed close relations with many of America's most dangerous enemies, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, and, most notoriously, Cuba. He's also in cahoots with Colombia's vicious Communist FARC and ELN guerrilla movements, and has been linked to a number of other notorious terrorist movements such as Spain's Basque separatist group ETA.

"Cubanizing" Venezuela

Most alarming of all, Chavez is now trying to "Cubanize" Venezuela by means of revolutionary committees known as "Bolivarian Circles." These circles are the key to Chavez' power, and to his ability to outflank the supporters of the recent coup attempt. Alejandro Pena Esciusa, former presidential candidate in Venezuela and now leader of Fuerza Solidaria, one of Venezuela's major opposition groups, described in detail to THE NEW AMERICAN the function of the Bolivarian Circles. "Every time anyone demonstrates against Chavez," he explained, "Chavez sends his people to foment violence.... This has always taken place.... I've been the leader of four marches we organized last year. And on those four occasions, the Bolivarian circles came to harass us."

The Bolivarian Circles are apparently modeled after Fidel Castro's CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Cuban Revolution, or Revolutionary Block Committees). …