RUSSIAN PRIME Minister boasted after returning from a visit to Venezuela on Monday that he had sold President Hugo Chavez another $5 billion in weapons -- a huge sum for a Latin American army. Hours later State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was asked for a reaction at his public briefing. First answer: "We don't care."
Mr. Crowley went on to say that State didn't see a legitimate need for all that equipment and was concerned that it might "migrate into other parts of the hemisphere." But his initial response was all too indicative of the continued complacency with which the Obama administration regards the political, economic and human rights meltdown underway in a major U.S. oil supplier -- and where it may lead.
The last time we looked in on developments in Venezuela, in January, we pointed out that Mr. Chavez had reacted to the unravelling of his economy and his own shrinking popularity by stepping up repression of the opposition. That continues: In the last couple of weeks the government arrested and brought criminal charges against three more leading critics. One is a former state governor and presidential candidate, who said in an interview -- correctly -- that Venezuela has become a haven for drug traffickers and terrorists. A second is the owner of the last television network that dares to criticize Mr. Chavez; the third is a deputy in the National Assembly who had denounced corruption involving members of the president's family.
Mr. Chavez's move against former Gov. Oswaldo Alvarez Paz came after a Spanish judge issued an indictment accusing the government and armed forces of facilitating contacts between Colombia's leftwing FARC terrorists and those of the Basque group ETA, who were allegedly concocting plots to assassinate the Colombian president and other leading politicians. Mr. Paz's "crime" was to talk about this development. The Spanish dossier is one of several demonstrating material support for terrorism by Mr. Chavez, who has made little secret of his preference for the FARC over Colombia's democratic government.
That brings us to the latest round of arms puchases from Russia, which come on top of $4 billion in weapons Mr. Chavez already ordered from Moscow. The arsenal includes T-72 tanks, MI-17 helicopters, and advanced fighter jets -- weapons suitable for the conventional war with which Mr. Chavez has repeatedly threatened Colombia.
The Obama administration's response has been to ignore or soft-pedal most of this. Political arrests are met with perfunctory statements of concern; the extensive evidence of support for terrorism is studiously ignored, lest the United States be compelled to act on its own laws mandating sanctions in such cases. About the flood of Russian weapons, aimed at intimidating one of the closest U.S. allies in Latin America, the administration publicly says, "we don't care." Colombians -- and average Venezuelans -- can only hope such breathtaking nonchalance is justified. (SOURCE)