A new enemy patrolling our east coast?

Is Puerto Rico really a part of the United States? And if it is, is it worth defending from attack? That's the emerging issue right now because Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez has just made his first threat on the U.S . commonwealth as he seeks to acquire advanced submarines.

Chavez is heading to Russia in the next few days, to discuss the purchase of five kilo-class submarines, and possibly four more advanced amur-class subs. There are questions as to how he would be able to finance them as well as how obtain the advanced training to bring them online, but there is no question from his statments that he wants them. Saturday, he laid it all out as AFP reported:
"They're making all this noise because Venezuela is going to buy some submarines. And I told them, 'Why not?'" Chavez said without confirming or denying the rumor.

"We've got half a million square kilometers of (Caribbean) sea, to the north, we've got Puerto Rico, in other words the empire (as he calls the United States), and France in the western Caribbean islands. We've got a huge sea," he said apparently alluding the use to which Venezuela's submarines would be put.
If Chavez succeeds in getting his hands on these submarines, the broad picture is that he will have the biggest submarine force in South America, bigger than Brazil, Argentina or Colombia, with a patrol range extending from Halifax, Canada to Montevideo, Uruguay. He will be in a position to patrol the entire Gulf of Mexico out of U.S. naval surveillance unless the battery-operated submarines surface for air, something they only need to do once a day, in the case of the Kilo-class subs and perhaps less with the more advanced models. The only way to monitor their moves will be to catch them exiting ports, a difficult task.

What's most disturbing is not the range, though, but that Chavez seems to want explicitly to direct them at Puerto Rico and France's two Overseas Departments of Martinique and Guadaloupe, both of which, in U.S . terms, have the status of states.

Although there are many islands in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf Of Mexico, and many colonial powers, it's significant that Chavez alluded to the U.S.'s and France's prime presences there. In the past he's threatened Netherlands and its overseas territories, and he's always hated Britain, but now he seems to have singled out France. While Chavez's antipathy to the U.S. is well-known, what's less well-known is that France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has an interest in the region and a clear understanding about Chavez. He's stepped up his ties to Venezuela's battered neighbor, Colombia, and probably will become more active in the region as Chavez's aggression steps up. Chavez knows this, and wants to throw out a few threat to France and the U.S. now.

Chavez's threats against the U.S. (and France) signal a first shot in a new level of confrontation with the West. Gone are the days of his devil speeches, he now seems to want to only communicate through weaponry and offering explicit plans as to how he intends to use them - starting with Puerto Rico. We better be paying attention.
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