As Venezuela sinks deeper into economic quicksand, President Hugo Chávez continues to mortgage his country’s future with weapons purchases and harebrained schemes. Last week, Russia’s Vladimir Putin visited the South American nation to promote greater bilateral cooperation on strategic issues, including energy and defense. According to Russian media outlets, Putin said that Moscow’s arms sales to Caracas “could exceed $5 billion.” It’s unclear how much of that $5 billion reflects previous agreements -- Chávez has already spent billions on Russian military equipment -- but we can safely say that the Venezuelan arms buildup is moving forward aggressively.
That buildup poses an immediate threat to neighboring Colombia, a pro-American democracy fighting narcoterrorists funded by Chávez. In a broader sense, it has allowed Russia to expand its strategic footprint in the Western Hemisphere, at the expense of U.S. influence. Indeed, Chávez and Putin share at least one common goal: to make America less powerful and less respected in its own backyard. Thus far, they have been disturbingly successful.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan economy slides further into the abyss. Plagued by energy shortages, the deterioration of its oil industry, harrowing levels of violent crime, and sky-high inflation, it has also been pummeled by Chávez’s reckless spending. With political unrest building and his country nearing the brink of a collapse, the Venezuelan dictator now wants to pour money into . . . space exploration? “Russia offers help so that Venezuela can have its own industry for the use of outer space,” Chávez declared last week. “We could install a satellite launcher here and a factory. We are already doing so with China, but Russia is offering to support Venezuela build its own [space] industry.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.