"Iraq has been a huge defeat for the US against the Muslim world. It does not matter if Iraq is wiped off the map."
In a few words: a huge conflict around the Bolivian gas issue can break out in South America at any time, and Venezuela would have to be involved as a belligerent force.
There will be two sides in the dispute: one headed by Brazil that needs that gas for its plans of becoming a world power in the medium term; the other side, having Bolivia as a motive, would be Venezuela, which is obliged to play the role of supportive defender of the sovereignty of "The Liberator's favorite daughter."
A video game for the South? This is one of the hypotheses put forward by Alberto Garrido in his double role as expert in military issues and in Chávez. The scenario would result from the mix of world energy crisis and the oil Socialism being advanced by Venezuela.
Garrido, who is considered a chavista by the opposition and an opponent by the chavistas, elaborates on the subject: "We should not mistake Lula for the Brazilian Armed Forces. Military pressures are so strong in Brazil that this year, for the first time, they made a parade with all the pomp and circumstance. They have started rapidly reequipping. What is their war hypothesis? Against the US? I do not think so, because at this moment the US is its major ally in the ethanol political project. Against Argentina? No, they are supplementary markets; their governments have excellent relations. It is not Uruguay or Paraguay either.
How do you think the conflict will break out?
-Lula himself told Chávez that his military pushed him to start a war when Evo Morales nationalized the gas reservoirs and the Bolivian Armed Forces took control of Petrobras facilities. At that moment Brazilian troops were deployed toward the border with Bolivia. According to military agreements signed by Bolivia and Venezuela, this latter should intervene in any conflict that Bolivia may have with another country.
Are not Brazil and Venezuela good friends?
Brazil's and Venezuela's interest as States are increasingly growing apart. Not even Mercosur is going to unite them, because Brazil and Venezuela do not share any common political project. Brazilians feel that Bolivian gas must be "for Brazil." And in this scenario a third country comes to play a role that cannot be ignored, Chile, the country that was the great power of the South but that now is experiencing a severe crisis, even a growth crisis, as a result of the gas issue. Bolivia is the most sensitive link of the Bolivarian power chain. Now it is not even Washington's interests, but other national interests that have convinced themselves that they have to play even without Washington.
Is the threat of a US invasion of Venezuela credible?
-Some sectors of the political opposition make fun of this issue and this is a naïve or stupid attitude. There are two central elements which can be used to analyze this possibility among the war hypotheses. First, Venezuela has the world's largest heavy and extra-heavy oil reserves. And Chávez has been spreading handouts among active or potential enemies of the US, like China, Russia, and Iran.
-You have said that Chávez's continuance in power depends on the moment when US oil lobbyists lose their patience. When do you think this denouement will come?
The word denouement is very strong. I rather talk about evolution. Chávez has been progressively tightening the relations with energy multinationals. What happens here is that this international market situation, paradoxically, favors oil transnational corporations. The company that registered the biggest gains in mankind's history was Conoco-Phillips in 2006, when it reported US$39 billion. No matter how much pressure Chávez puts on it, its gains are huge and this helps the company to influence and tie the US political sector. But all this translates into a silent power struggle between the political and the military sector, the Pentagon, which responds to another factor: the military industrial establishment. This explains why the Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, says that the US Government does not want to talk about Chávez. The situation has to be analyzed within its global context: Chávez has put the emphasis of the revolutionary process on energy. Since we are facing a generalized energy crisis and Chávez uses the weapons he has in hand, the situation is never going to be stable. So long as world and regional situations are volatile, his presence in power will be volatile too. He is standing on an oil and gas time bomb.
The US lost the war
Garrido assures that US control over the world depends on its control over energy. And a revolution against that world order depends on it too.
-Fidel said it a long time ago. This is what oil Socialism is about. This has turned into a sort of wet soap bar, especially for the US: it is something always difficult to grab. The neoconservatives have understood that the only way for the US to gain control of the 21st century is by controlling energy sources. They have decided to put an end to the Vietnam syndrome and go back to territorial occupation. This is the reason why they went to Iraq, to secure oil sources. But they found an awkward surprise: Making a war between two technologically formidably disparate countries has changed. What happened was the sequence of two wars: the first stage it was a fast, conventional war that allowed the US to occupy Iraq in three weeks and Bush to declare that he had won and that soon Iraq would be producing 5 million barrels a day; and the other stage was the 21st century-style war.
Is the US losing this war?
-This has been a heavy defeat for the US against the Muslim world; no matter if now they wipe Iraq off the face of the Earth. And the same can happen to Iran. This is the end of the US unipolar illusion. The failure of the conventional war in Iraq and transforming oil into a weapon lead to an unprecedented situation in which a civilization based on oil is witnessing how sources decrease and demand increases. The US has provided two oil countries, Venezuela and Iran, this latter being the Middle East emerging power, with a factor that paralyzes them. If the US has not attacked Iran is because it fears that oil, which prices are approaching US$100 per barrel, can shoot up uncontrolled. And in this transformation of oil into a weapon, Chávez, his rhetoric, his political practice, and his geo-strategic moves have played an important role, which the US has not been able to decipher yet.
-Chávez is now talking about a combined war, which joins elements of conventional war with those of the guerrilla war; last week he urged officers to look for examples in Vietnam and Iraq. How do you understand this?
-I think Chavez resorts to the hypothesis of the combined war to solve a political problem. Some military officers think that the development of the idea of the militia, the people in arms, will make them lose power. Chávez tells them: You are going to be professional, but the ultimate concept is that of being members of a militia, the war of the whole people. The new element is the guerrilla war, which has been diluting the concept of asymmetric war. I do not know right now if he is thinking about a mixture of regular forces with guerrilla and asymmetric war or regular forces with one of the other two.
-Do these political moves are a result of the President's intuition or is he very well advised?
-Chávez, and I am not ashamed to say it, has made formidable political decisions at different moments, leaving political cemeteries behind him and paying no attention to anybody's advice. He listens to them but not necessarily do what they say. Chávez rules, not his counsellors. You can ask his mentors: Douglas Bravo, Norberto Ceresole, Luis Miquilena, Heinz Dieterich. He has kept on walking, with his own style, leaving his mark on everything. He is a great politician, but he has a test before him: he has to prove that he is also a great warrior.
-Is this a debt he has to pay because of how he behaved on 4F and 11A?
-Well, I have other explanations, but I do not want to start any controversy if I say that Chávez has not made his major war decision yet. The case of Fidel Castro is different, because he has proven to be a great politician and also a warrior. I think that the major test is close. It is a moment when your life is unmistakably at stake. I am talking about a moment when, before history, he will have to offer an unequivocal testimony.
-The war with Brazil?
-That is the hypothesis, but there is also the possibility of a conflict in the Middle East where he will have to take a stance. There is the thesis of the border conflict spill-over. This is a multiple-risk picture; but his definite test is, undoubtedly, the one that is still to come.
Translated by Alix Hernández
FOREIGN POLICY "The imperial Venezuela of President Hugo Chávez has fallen on hard times." This is the phrase used by Félix Arellano, an internationalist and professor at Central University of Venezuela, to illustrate the country's situation with regard to foreign affairs.