Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Can A "Rich Castro" Work?

This Venezuelan may wonder why Hugo Chavez is spending $3 billion or more on various image-building expenditures throughout Latin America when there is so much need at home.

Chavez is much like Fidel Castro, who also wanted to take over Latin America. Castro never had any money, though, and the countries he was trying to influence with his Communist rhetoric simply looked at how that system had ravaged Cuba's economy and said "No thanks."

Now oil-rich Hugo Chavez is trying to see what would happen if Castro were rich, except that he's playing the role of the anti-American, saber-rattling Castro. Now when he goes hunting for Latin American natures to follow in his wake, they see money, and lots of it, behind the rhetoric.

Today's NYTimes tries (unsuccessfully, but impressively nonetheless) to quantify just how much oil largesse Chavez has heaped on other countries to buy influence. It could be $16 billion; it could be $25 billion. Either case would make his foreign spending over $3 billion a year, or more than the U.S. is spending in Latin America.

Meanwhile, somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of Venezuelans live in poverty, and no reserves are being set aside to protect the country in the event in a downturn in oil prices, or production difficulties that cause output to drop. The latter gets more probable the more Chavez spends buying foreign influence instead of maintaining and upgrading production equipment.

Will Chavez be able to buy goodwill and spread bad will toward America? Who knows, but his chances are better if America remains silent. And we are too silent, as our expenditures for information warfare remain unrestored from the devastating cuts the Carter and Clinton administrations made. Chavez is vulnerable to good information, and we can get that information out if there's the will and the budget to do it.

Congress has a choice: Fund information warfare today against Chavez, or sit back and see how bad a Castro with money could become.

Photo: NYTimes
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