The Militias of Venezuela and the Tanks of Chavez

Two stories that, when taken together, foretell of even more chaos in South America which will eventually bring even more pressure on our southern border. The first comes from Strategy Page:

January 21, 2011: The battle with the drug gangs has led to the seizure of nearly eight tons of cocaine so far this month. This war is low key, widespread and largely out in the bush. Thus it gets little media attention, but it grinds on, and is slowly driving the drug gangs out of the country, or out of business, and further reducing the size and influence of leftist rebels like FARC and ELN. The leftist rebels have been hurt so bad that central control has broken down. The dozens of local FARC units are more and more going their own way. Some are becoming more like gangsters than revolutionaries, while others cling to their revolutionary origins. Neither approach is particularly attractive to most Colombians.

Neighboring Venezuela is sliding towards revolution. President Hugo Chavez, facing defeat in the 2012 presidential elections, is using increased oil income (from rising world prices) to import the goods (especially food) that Venezuela no longer produces (because the government has taken control of so much of the economy). Chavez is forming “peasant militias” composed of his loyalists and armed with assault rifles bought from Russia. It’s still not certain that Chavez would risk a civil war to hold onto power.

That there is a connection between Chavez and his “peasant militias” and FARC is not in doubt by any rational observer. FARC also maintains operating relationships with various Mexican cartel factions. That would probably be a better explanation for border gangs obtaining fully automatic AK-47s and hand grenades than the myth that those items are purchased in border town pawn shops.

The next story is from J.E. Dyer called Bridges to Bogota. While noting that Venezuela is adding 92 Russian made Main Battle Tanks to it’s already substantial heavy and light armor forces Dyer points out that Chavez has little use for the purchase outside of imperialist aggression:

The light tanks alone are more than enough to quell popular unrest in Venezuela.  They are more likely to be used in that role than the MBTs, as they are smaller, lighter, and travel easily on more of Venezuela’s erratic road network – while providing all the firepower necessary for the average insurgency-quelling.

Meanwhile, a look at the map shows that Venezuela’s environs, and in particular her borders with Colombia and Brazil, are spectacularly hostile to armored warfare.  There is no threat of invasion from either side.  Brazil has a substantial inventory of armor, but no political friction with Venezuela of the kind that would make present-day Brazilians hanker after the capacity to invade their northern neighbor.  Even if they had such a hankering, getting tanks into Venezuela from Brazil would entail filing through a narrow, mountainous route – being highly vulnerable to counterattack – and having to go a very long way through Venezuela to achieve any territorial gains that were politically useful.

But there is one significant change to the region that would benefit Chavez if he decided to start flexing his muscle:

There is now an improved, commercial-grade highway stretching all the way from Caracas to Bogotá, served by the José Antonio Páez Bridge over the Arauca River at the Colombian border town of Arauca.  (See map.)  The road enables heavy commercial traffic (primarily oil-industry traffic) to traverse the Llanos.  The bridge – an iron-truss bridge built in the second half of the 20th century – was given a maintenance upgrade by Colombia in 2009 and 2010.

The highway, inaugurated in stages from 2008 to 2010, is christened La Ruta de los Libertadores – the Route of the Liberators.  Venezuela refers to her stretch of the roadway as the Autopista José Antonio Páez.   The road traces the route of Bolivar’s army in the Andean campaign of 1819.  And its completion means that it is no longer the case that Chavez literally cannot drive 45-ton main battle tanks into central Colombia.  Doing so might be inadvisable: with only one feasible route, an alerted Colombian military would have no difficulty finding the invasion force, and would have at least one key advantage in countering it.  But the enterprise has gone from being impossible to being highly unlikely.  The road itself is more important than the bridge; bridging equipment, well deployed, can get tanks across a river, but the important change from a military standpoint is the existence of a road that will bear heavy traffic through the thinly-populated Llanos and across the rough ascent to Bogotá.

Added to this is the capacity for Venezuela to stage a mini D-Day invasion of it’s neighbors:

That said, however, there are other factors we should not ignore.  One is that Venezuela has a tank landing-ship force.  It’s not a big one; there are only four ships.  They were built in South Korea in the 1980s.  But that number of ships, and the number of tanks they could deliver, would make a difference to a dicey internal situation in a nation like Panama, Costa Rica, or Honduras.  In combination with paramilitary forces from Cuba and Nicaragua, they could up the ante significantly.

In theory, Chavez has this particular capability now, with the existing landing ships and his French and British tanks.  The addition of the nine submarines he is buying from Russia would significantly enhance a landing force’s survivability and effectiveness, however, along with the dozens of Su-30 strike fighters, and Mi-17 and Mi-35 combat helicopters, being purchased from Russia as well.  No single capability is a game-changer; it’s the cumulative enhancement of capability from Chavez’s shopping spree that makes the difference.

Chavez is facing losing power in his country and watching his FARC allies fall apart in Columbia. With a weakened America withdrawing from the region, and worse openly supporting his communist allies, Chavez sees his time for enacting the true socialist revolution he wants coming to a close. He will use the limited time he has left to rescue his allies and re-invigorate the Latin American communist movement.

That may include not just an invasion of Columbia to support his FARC allies, but of Honduras and any other country that he can outgun. Ultimately he may support leftist elements in Mexico as FARC increasingly takes control of operations there.

Can a bankrupt America fight off dozens of tanks backed by Nicaraguan and Cuban paramilitaries staged by land we already ceded to cartels? Probably, but at what cost? It may seem fanciful to consider but in ten years ago who would have thought that parts of Arizona would be effectively under the control of transnational warlords?  It’s time we started paying attention to the new Soviet Union forming right on our southern border.

h/t Fausta

One thought on “The Militias of Venezuela and the Tanks of Chavez

  1. I just find it very scary that Ron Paul got in second place in the New Hampshire straw poll…he received support from Cindy Sheehan back during the 2008 elections who is a strong supporter of Hugo Chavez too.

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