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The Threat Closer to Home
Hugo Chavez and the War against America
By Douglas Schoen and Michael Rowan
Free Press
HC, 240 pgs. US$25
ISBN: 1-4165-9477-9

Latin America's socialist Ahmadinejad

By Steven Martinovich
web posted February 9, 2009

The Threat Closer to HomeIf America's war on terror can claim any successes, and there are a few contrary to popular belief and media reportage, it's that the world's most infamous terrorist has been reduced to making the occasional amateur video in the hills of Afghanistan or Pakistan. Osama bin Laden, however, is far from America's only threat and while George W. Bush was and Barack Obama will likely be primarily focused on Iran and North Korea, there is a connected threat not far from America's shores largely ignored by everyone.

That threat, according to Douglas Schoen and Michael Rowan, is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Though seen by many Americans as the prototypical banana republic buffoon, Schoen and Rowan argue in the eye-opening The Threat Closer to Home: Hugo Chavez and the War against America that Chavez is far more dangerous than he seems and his primary target is what he calls the "American Empire." Fueled by earnings from Venezuela's oil industry and maintaining power with populist, socialist rhetoric and his military, much of Chavez's energy is expended in destabilizing democracies and supporting America's enemies.

Armed with huge oil reserves, Chavez is essentially fighting an asymmetric war against the United States. Schoen and Rowan chronicle how Chavez has built close ties with Cuba, he's well-known as a protégé and admirer of Fidel Castro, and Iran and even hosted training camps for Hamas and Hezbollah members. Not content with merely supporting foreign terrorists, the Venezuelan president has also actively aided the Columbian narcoterrorists known as FARC to the extent of supplying them with arms and money and giving safe harbor when necessary. Chavez, in the apparent belief that everything south of the United States is his playground, financially supports anti-American and communist/socialist candidates all over Latin America, with some nearly capturing traditional American allies like Costa Rica.

Perhaps just worrisome are Chavez's efforts inside the United States. Schoen and Rowan report that he's managed to build an extensive network of supporters among both the famous and unknown. Well known actors including Danny Glover and Sean Penn have visited Venezuela and demonstrated support for his failed policies while politicians on both sides of the aisle – Joseph P. Kennedy II and Mitt Romney among them – have worked for Venezuelan interests. Chavez even offers low cost "tourist" trips to Venezuela for Americans so they can discover for themselves the worker's paradise that he's built.

Chavez's personal history is a fascinating story filled with inspiration by radicals and communists. Schoen and Rowan detail a story which saw his early failed political efforts, including at least one funded by FARC, his eventual capture of power and subsequent stolen elections. Although his populist rhetoric promised battles against corruption and poverty, Chavez has spent tens of billions fighting America – money that could have eliminated poverty in Venezuela – and the nation is now almost entirely a criminal state. Thanks to Chavez, Venezuela has become the South American version of Zimbabwe complete with land grabs, declining agricultural and industrial production, malnutrition, unemployment and rising inflation.

For those who have been keeping a close eye on Venezuela and Chavez, there is likely little in The Threat Closer to Home that will be revelatory. Chavez's regular pronouncements of an anti-American coalition composed of rogue and failed states, terrorist groups and ideological foes – all funded by oil revenues – are by now well-known. His bizarre September 20, 2006 speech at the United Nations where he blasted Bush as "the devil" and spun rhetoric at home in North Korea woke many up in that regard. For those still unaware of the danger that Chavez is to the United States, The Threat Closer to Home will be an invaluable and sadly necessary wake-up call. ESR

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

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