Skip to comments.U.S. keeping eye on Chavez moves - Senators told of trend toward authoritarianism in Venezuela
Posted on 03/13/2003 10:58:27 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
WASHINGTON -- Directing unusually blunt language at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the top U.S. military officer in Latin America said Thursday he sees a trend toward authoritarianism in the troubled country.
Gen. James. T. Hill, head of the U.S. Southern Command, gave his assessment of the situation in Venezuela during an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Hill also said U.S. efforts to help Colombia fight leftist guerrillas have been successful, but the country's conflict will not be resolved solely by military means.
He said the Colombian military is gaining momentum in its battle against the guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries.
On Venezuela, Hill described the street protests during the two-month general strike that crippled Venezuela's economy as, "for lack of a better term, democracy in action." The strike crippled oil exports in what had been the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.
He said that following the strike, Chavez's "actions may portend a move toward greater authoritarianism. In my mind, that bears watching very carefully. I have directed my people to do that."
Since the strike ended, Chavez has come under international criticism for cracking down on political opponents. Chavez has accused the United States and other nations of conducting a smear campaign to discredit his government. He continues to have strong support among Venezuela's many poor people.
Hill said he has not personally been in contact with Venezuela's military, but praised it as professional and said it has good relations with the U.S. military.
"The Venezuela military did not go out in the street and kill its citizens, nor did they conduct a coup," he said. "I think that's an important aspect of what's going on."
The Bush administration long has been wary of Chavez, who has befriended Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Cuban leader Fidel Castro and other U.S. adversaries. But after appearing too eager to support a failed coup attempt last April, the United States has been cautious in its criticism. It is following the leadership of the Organization of American States in seeking a peaceful resolution of Venezuela's political crisis.
Hill created a stir in Venezuela last week when he said terrorist organizations were operating on the country's Margarita Island, as well as in border areas of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Venezuela's foreign minister, Roy Chaderton, called on him to provide evidence.
On Colombia, Hill said the guerrillas and paramilitaries will never be eradicated. But the government can reassert its authority in parts of the country where the groups have freely operated.
"There will never be a purely military solution to the problem that is Colombia," Hill said. "They recognize that and we recognize that, but I remain cautiously optimistic."
The United States has provided about $2 billion in assistance to Colombia in recent years, most of it in anti-drug aid.
Newsprint isn't manufactured in Venezuela and many local newspapers have said they only have paper to last them through about April. Opponents of President Hugo Chavez warn he'll likely use the new rules to close newspapers critical of his administration, which they say is becoming increasingly dictatorial. Chavez often accuses some newspapers, along with television and radio stations, of unfair coverage. ***
Venezuela reinforces military along Colombian border -Denies existence of FARC terrorist camp *** Army commander Gen. Jorge Garcia Carneiro toured military posts in the frontier Wednesday. He plans to submit a report on the military situation to President Hugo Chavez. Blanco's comments came after news reports in Bogota that Colombian rebels had established bases in Venezuela. But Blanco dismissed the allegations as "irresponsible." "We are patrolling and fulfilling our mission," he said.
Colombia's leading daily El Tiempo reported Wednesday that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, runs a training school for some 400 rebels in Venezuela. Citing an unidentified report from the Colombian army, the newspaper also said that the National Liberation Army, or ELN, has a camp in Venezuela that it uses as an air base and hideout for kidnap victims. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton denied the report, saying Colombian officials would have contacted Venezuelan authorities by now if it were true. Chaderton said he believed someone provided false information to the press.
On Thursday, a Venezuelan opposition politician claimed he has a report by Venezuela's Environment Ministry confirming the existence of a FARC camp in Sierra de Perija. The report says the camp has a water tank, a cafeteria for 50 people and a dormitory, Fernando Villasmil, president of the legislature of western Zulia state, said in an interview with Union Radio. Environment Ministry officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Earlier in the week, Chaderton said his country would not declare Colombian rebels terrorists because that would make it harder for Venezuela to help broker any future peace agreement in the civil war. Chavez has condemned rebel bombings and kidnappings as "acts of terrorism." Caracas and Bogota are considering calling a meeting between Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to discuss relations, which have been rocky for years. Many Colombians believe that the Venezuelan government is sympathetic to the leftist rebels, and some have even accused Venezuelan authorities of harboring rebels.
Chavez denies supporting rebels.***
Curtailing newsprint paper- now that's a novel trick to crush free speech.