A Russian Navy flotilla, led by the cruiser Peter the Great, has arrived at the port of La Guaira in northern Venezuela for joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan Navy to coincide with a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The official line is that the joint maneuvers, which include the Peter the Great, one of Russia’s most powerful warships, is simply a good will exercise between two friendly countries. The reality is that the joint maneuvers, which include one of the furthest deployment of Russian naval units since the fall of the Soviet Empire, is a clear signal to the United States from two unfriendly powers.
By deploying a navy flotilla in the southern Caribbean , including the Peter the Great, Russia gets to assert itself as a power that can make itself felt anywhere in the world, even in America’s back yard. The deployment of the Peter the Great led flotilla is also seen as a response to a planned deployment of anti missile defense systems in Eastern Europe.
Venezuela, led by its bombastic strong man Hugo Chavez, is using the joint maneuvers to demonstrate that his country has a powerful ally, thus enhancing his personal power. Russia is also providing arms to the Venezuelan military, including 24 Sukhoi-30 fighter jets. The joint naval maneuvers are clearly directed toward the United States, which Hugo Chavez has accused of plotting to invade Venezuela or overthrow him.
Hugo Chavez recently suffered a huge political defeat in regional elections. According to the New York Times:
“Though Mr. Chávez’s allies won 17 of the 22 states in Sunday’s vote, his opponents did well in some poor urban areas, and in states like Zulia, where much of Venezuela’s oil is produced; Carabobo, the home of auto manufacturers and petrochemical plants; and Táchira, rich in agriculture and cattle. Mr. Chávez framed the elections as a plebiscite on his evolving revolutionary ideology, but voters appeared to focus on more mundane concerns like inflation, which at more than 30 percent is the highest rate in Latin America, and fears that an economic boom might be sputtering to an end as oil prices plunge, forcing Mr. Chávez to reconsider his spending plans.”
Hugo Chavez had threatened to send tanks into the state of Carabobo if his ally Mario Silva lost his post as governor. Venezuelan voters reacted by booting out Silva anyway,
Hugo Chavez’s term as President of Venezuela is up in 2010 and according to the Venezuelan Constitution he will be unable to run again. An attempt in 2007 to amend the Venezuelan Constitution to remove term limits and, in effect, make Hugo Chavez President for life failed in a popular referendum. Chavez will attempt to amend the Constitution again before he is required to step down.
The big question people in South America are asking, will Hugo Chavez step down in 2010 as required by the Venezuelan Constitution? Or will he remove the fig leaf of law and make himself a dictator in fact, imposing brute force law on Venezuela to enact the madcap kind of socialism that has so far caused economic turmoil in the oil rich, South American country.
Sources: Russian warships arrive for maneuvers off Venezuela, AFP, November 25th, 2008
Once Considered Invincible, Chávez Takes a Blow, Simon Romero, New York Times, November 24th, 2008