Venezuela's war message to the Caribbean

It was hard to not sense something was gravely wrong when Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez announced he would put his Caribbean oil headquarters in Havana, Cuba, a city of absolutely no economic significance, in fact, of no actual economy. 
 
Havana's only significance is political, as the seat of U.S.'s leading enemy in the hemisphere, Fidel Castro. Chavez seemed to be trying to put the oil squeeze on the small Caribbean states, who have many votes in the United Nations and the Organization of American States, to extort those votes. It wasn't about oil, but oil as a strategic weapon.  But it was more than that.
 
Yesterday the Venezuelan media announced huge naval exercises to defend against a potential U.S. blockade and invasion. Sixteen ships and up to 5000 military personnel (out of a total of 78,000—strong total military) participated. They were aided by Chavez's Bolivarian Circles paramilitaries, whose job is to ensure the impoverished barrios don't come out and drop flowers at the feet of the supposedly invading U.S. troops, but instead "win" against such an event — like Fallujah.
 
My sources at the Pentagon, who make no secret of despising Chavez, say unequivocally that there are no U.S. invasion plans in the works. However, Hugo Chavez sticks firmly to his claim that there are, most probably to shore up his falling popularity in his political stronghold, the barrios. As corruption gnaws away at Venezuela's oil earnings, there is less and less money to pay for Chavez's state soup—kitchen programs designed to buy barrio loyalty. In the absence of that, fear will have to serve as a substitute.
 
But it's probably more than that, given the expensiveness of the exercises. The stepped—up military activity is no doubt a message to the rest of the Caribbean that not only can the region's bully cut off their oil, it can also put on a vast military show. And because it's actively practicing,  it'll be very skilled. This intimidating message won't be lost on any of the countries trapped in the new Venezuela—Cuba oil net — a group which includes Costa Rica, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Jamaica and other states that must buy Venezuelan oil now from Havana. Not only can Chavez cut off their oil, he can also threaten them physically if they don't see things his way. They know very well the U.S. has no intention of invading Venezuela, so the moves are there for them to consider.
 
The military activity also warns them that if the U.S. ever does get a mind to rid itself of this hemispheric plague, they will pay a high cost if they line up behind freedom as U.S. allies.
 
But it's true U.S.—Venezuela relations are at a nadir. The Miami Herald has a lousy article out today  that seems to place equal blame on the U.S. and Venezuela for the sorry state of affairs, instead of the real cause of the problem, Hugo Chavez. It ends by quoting the U.S.'s habitually wimpy ambassador in Caracas saying we're just never going to agree on things. As if the cynical, thieving regime of Hugo Chavez's feelings rank above Chavez's ongoing quest for absolute power over the Caribbean.
It was hard to not sense something was gravely wrong when Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez announced he would put his Caribbean oil headquarters in Havana, Cuba, a city of absolutely no economic significance, in fact, of no actual economy. 
 
Havana's only significance is political, as the seat of U.S.'s leading enemy in the hemisphere, Fidel Castro. Chavez seemed to be trying to put the oil squeeze on the small Caribbean states, who have many votes in the United Nations and the Organization of American States, to extort those votes. It wasn't about oil, but oil as a strategic weapon.  But it was more than that.
 
Yesterday the Venezuelan media announced huge naval exercises to defend against a potential U.S. blockade and invasion. Sixteen ships and up to 5000 military personnel (out of a total of 78,000—strong total military) participated. They were aided by Chavez's Bolivarian Circles paramilitaries, whose job is to ensure the impoverished barrios don't come out and drop flowers at the feet of the supposedly invading U.S. troops, but instead "win" against such an event — like Fallujah.
 
My sources at the Pentagon, who make no secret of despising Chavez, say unequivocally that there are no U.S. invasion plans in the works. However, Hugo Chavez sticks firmly to his claim that there are, most probably to shore up his falling popularity in his political stronghold, the barrios. As corruption gnaws away at Venezuela's oil earnings, there is less and less money to pay for Chavez's state soup—kitchen programs designed to buy barrio loyalty. In the absence of that, fear will have to serve as a substitute.
 
But it's probably more than that, given the expensiveness of the exercises. The stepped—up military activity is no doubt a message to the rest of the Caribbean that not only can the region's bully cut off their oil, it can also put on a vast military show. And because it's actively practicing,  it'll be very skilled. This intimidating message won't be lost on any of the countries trapped in the new Venezuela—Cuba oil net — a group which includes Costa Rica, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Trinidad, Jamaica and other states that must buy Venezuelan oil now from Havana. Not only can Chavez cut off their oil, he can also threaten them physically if they don't see things his way. They know very well the U.S. has no intention of invading Venezuela, so the moves are there for them to consider.
 
The military activity also warns them that if the U.S. ever does get a mind to rid itself of this hemispheric plague, they will pay a high cost if they line up behind freedom as U.S. allies.
 
But it's true U.S.—Venezuela relations are at a nadir. The Miami Herald has a lousy article out today  that seems to place equal blame on the U.S. and Venezuela for the sorry state of affairs, instead of the real cause of the problem, Hugo Chavez. It ends by quoting the U.S.'s habitually wimpy ambassador in Caracas saying we're just never going to agree on things. As if the cynical, thieving regime of Hugo Chavez's feelings rank above Chavez's ongoing quest for absolute power over the Caribbean.