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Caracas, Tuesday January 25 , 2005  
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Mike Tyson


When he was only a teenager, the boxer Mike Tyson had a brutal, furious method for dispatching his world-class, experienced opponents. They all knew it was coming before they stepped into the ring: he would attack furiously at first bell and continue until the opponent was on the canvass. This usually happened in the first round. Sometimes it happened in the first ten seconds of the fight. But as Tyson got older he got lazier, and his punch lost its sting, the fights got longer, and he became just another journeyman fighter, and a loser. This is what may be happening to president Chavez at the moment in the fight with Colombia.

In election contests since 1998, Chavez has gone 9 and 0 against the opposition, who in no case were in fighting shape. Everyone knew the Chavez fight strategy, but couldn't stop him from doing it: he turned every election into a referendum on him as David fighting Goliath, or him as Robin Hood versus the opposition as the Sheriff of Sherwood forest.  But now Colombia steps into the ring with the Granda affair. This is a different kind of fight, and a very prepared fighter, indeed.

What Colombia did in the Granda affair is fair game in terrorism. Giving rewards for capturing infamous criminals is standard fare worldwide, and no surprise. That Venezuelan military would take the bait and deliver the goods is regrettable, from a military discipline perspective, but that's the way it goes. As for sovereignty, politicians care about it a lot, but the public would rather have terrorists behind bars and a little more security in daily life. So for president Chavez to pull out all the stops on this fight is a strategic mistake. He is not prepared for this fight and he can get knocked out.

International conflicts are not won with bluster unless the opposition chickens out. In this case, we have a country with an inexperienced and unprepared military - that also doesn't have those Russian arms and warplanes yet - theoretically going up against a military hardened with experience fighting the guerillas and backed by the world military empire to the north. When there is no way to talk your way out of those a bad set of facts, there's no reason to talk yourself into the ring. This is the wrong fight at the wrong time for Chavez, but like Mike Tyson when he was in a decline and living in the past, he doesn't know it.

Michael Rowan's column is published every Tuesday.

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