Why is the Obama administration trying to help Hugo Chavez?
Hugo Chávez took a break last week from lobbying Washington on behalf of deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to travel to Quito, Ecuador, for a meeting of South American heads of state.
There he launched a virulent assault on the U.S. military, reiterated his commitment to spreading revolution in the region, and threatened the continent with war. Mr. Zelaya was by his side.
The Venezuelan's tirade against the U.S. and its ally Colombia raised the question yet again of what the U.S. could possibly be thinking in pushing Honduras to reinstate Mr. Zelaya. He was removed from office by the Honduran Congress in June because he violated the country's constitution and willfully incited mob violence.
But that's not the only thing that made him unpopular at home. He also had become an important ally of Mr. Chávez and was quite obviously being coached to copy the Chávez power grab in Venezuela by undermining Honduras's institutional checks and balances.
If Honduras has been able to neutralize Mr. Chávez, it's something to celebrate. A Chávez-style takeover of institutions in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua has quashed political pluralism, free speech and minority rights in those countries. There is now a heavy presence of Cuban state intelligence throughout the Venezuelan empire. Mr. Zelaya literally has become a fellow traveler of Mr. Chávez, leaving no doubts about the course he would put Honduras on if given the chance.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez salutes Raul Castro while Argentine President Cristina Kirchner looks on in Caracas, Venezuela, Aug. 11.
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As a U.S. senator, Mr. Kerry has the luxury of treating Latin America like his playground, as Democrats have done for decades, foisting on it ideas that Americans reject. Venezuelans still recall how Connecticut's Chris Dodd played the role of chief Chávez cheerleader in the Senate while the strongman was consolidating power.
But Mr. Obama is the president and commander in chief, and millions of people in this hemisphere are counting on the U.S. to stand up to Venezuelan aggression. Playing footsie under the table with Mr. Chávez on Honduras while the Venezuelan is threatening the peace isn't going to fly in a hemisphere that prefers liberty over tyranny.
Both Colombian and U.S. officials allege that the Venezuelan National Guard and high-ranking members of Mr. Chávez's government are in cahoots with criminal enterprises that run drugs in South America. The evidence suggests an alliance between the terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)—the largest exporter of cocaine from that country—and members of Mr. Chávez's cabinet. There is also evidence in documents and video captured from the FARC that the rebels have influence at high levels of the Ecuadoran government.
The cocaine business is a big revenue raiser for the terrorist organization and for its business partners on the continent. This is why Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has agreed to allow U.S. drug-surveillance planes to use Colombian military bases.
In Quito, Mr. Chávez flew into a rage about that agreement. "The U.S. is the most warlike government in the world," he told his South American peers and Mr. Zelaya. "The Yankee military pays no mind to its president," he said, artfully exempting Barack Obama from blame. "In Colombia [the U.S. military] has immunity. They can rape women, they can kill and they can destroy in every direction. You can't do anything to them. It's horrible."
The military-bases agreement is far more limited than what Mr. Chávez claimed, but he wasn't about to miss an opportunity to ratchet up the tension. "The winds of war are starting to blow," he warned.
His counterparts didn't buy it. Colombia was not condemned in Quito, largely because key members of the group didn't want their own sovereign decisions subject to continental review. But Mr. Chávez is not going away. He has pledged to continue with efforts to destabilize surviving democracies.
Honduras remains a target. Argentina is also in his sights. In an interview with the Argentine daily La Nación, he spoke of his alliance with Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner. "We are going to work to reinforce the Caracas-Buenos Aires axis, which is a central axis," Mr. Chávez said. "Like the Caracas-Quito axis, the Caracas-Buenos Aires axis is fundamental for the integration."
The U.S. war on drugs has been a colossal failure because of the large cocaine market in the U.S. The tragedy—beyond the violence it creates—is that criminal enterprises, flourishing because of U.S. customers, wreak havoc on frail institutions. That's bad enough. But the Obama administration pours salt in that gaping wound by refusing to support the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement our ally has asked for, and now by backing Mr. Chávez's Honduran pawn.