There is no particular News story that prompts this thread, but I have been thinking about Chavez, US involvement/interests in the area and the contradiction between US self-interest and the respect of Democratically-elected governments. I would also say that many of the lessons of our involvement in the Region are highly applicable to our continuing War on Terror and constitute our best tactics for engaging in such effectively, borne of decades of experience. US involvement in the Latin Americas has been morally debateable, but I would venture in our self interest. Intervention in Chile, Bolivia and El Salvador, while certainly not pretty (especially in the case of Chile), did forstall an aggressive Soviet/Cuban campaign for influence in the Region, producing countries that in almost every case were better than what the Soviets or CUbans had in mind. Even Chile, with it's gross human rights violations under Pinochet, managed to bring down it's infant mortality and unemployment rate considerably after transition to dictatorship. In general, these interventions also pacved the way for market liberalization and democratic transitions of the 80's and 90's. Also, the support of Rightist regimes in the region, in addition to perhaps an ideological component, was also a practical necessity. Many governments in the Region aligned themselves with Rightist paramilitaries, as a matter of tactics. It was not that they were "better" than the leftist guerillas - but to align with them against the left until the latter could be defeated or forced to negotiate and then absorb the paramilitaries into the army to be professionalized made the besty sense - after all, the paramilitaries formed as a reaction to the guerillas in the first place. Did it not make sense for the US to support such a Policy, especially when the guerillas were receiving support from the Cubans and Soviets? Also, of course, is the influence of drug money and cartels in the Region. The US has been involved in Colombia for decades, where there has been a guerilla war for nearly 40 years. The FARC, the main guerilla force, with around 70 thousand fighters had morphed from a marxist organisation to a criminal one - with huge revenues generated from the drug trade, with nearly 500 million in revenue from protection money annually. Which brings me back to Chavez. Arauca Province in Columbia, bordering Venezuela, was the most violent region of Colombia. Three generations of people had grown up loyal to the insurgents - there was huge tracts of coca fields there - there was also Big oil, Occidental Petroleum, piping oil NW to the carribean, which was often attacked by insurrgents. Chavez has been providing rear bases to the guerillas inside of Venezuela, and the guerillas control of Arauca has given the guerillas a corridor for exporting narcotics to Venezuela in exchange for weapons and munitions, which were, in turn, smuggled in by Arab gangs based in the Venezuelan port of Maracaibo. There have been credible reports that Hams and Hezbollah have established havens on the Vnezuelan island of Margarita near Caracas. Venezuelan Authorities have provided thousands of local identity cards to Syrians, Egyptians and Pakistanis. Chavez, a vocal supporter of Castro and Hussein (when in power), has had fingerprints all over the narco-terrorist actions in the Region. Us Intelligence has found GPS units on FARC gunrunners constantly indicating positions inside Venezuela. With Venezuelan help, the ELN (another Columbian guerilla movement), have learned how to sabotage the oil pipeline. Stakes for the US are high - the US has traditionally gotten about 30% of it's oil imports from Venezuela, more than the entire middle east. The Economic Threat he poses is in many ways more important and insidious than those posed by radical regimes in the Arab World. Chavez has had a vested interest in FARC and ELN attacks on Columbian oil pipelines, since that makes the US even more dependent on Venezualan oil. In many ways, it seems that this complicated region and the equally complicated 'War on Drugs' the US has engaged in in this region are more appropriate to our current "War on Terrorism" than any large-scale war such as Iraq. Columbian "cocaine armies" have constituted an intractable insurgency long before Al Qaeda, even as they morph into nominally ideological guerilla armys and integrate with Islamic terrorist factions in a region where geography and tradition make it difficult to maintain any Central Governance. It also shows the wisdom of the use of smaller, specialized forces (such as Special Forces) to attempt to identify a few pivotal elements in a broken society and attempt to fix them. It involves training of local Elite units, who will in turn fight and train further military units - the only real vehicle of change in regions with corrupt or ineffectual politics. The goals are also realistic and, for better or worse, lacking of moralistic absolutism. The ends are often imperfect - such as merely the balkanization of terrorist groups to kill their centers of gravity, rather than their outright pacification. The means are often imperfect also - with the use of assasinations and tactical alliances with groups little better than those you are fighting against. So does a threat, democratically-elected, constitute less of threat? Is the contradiction between Political platitudes and abstractions and the ugly compromises that constitute effective policy in difficult situations really that reprehensible? Can it be any other way? Just a rambling topic of discussion - thought it might provoke some. Again, sorry to ramble - I tend to do that.