Magicians, tricksters and clowns have employed illusions created by the sleight of hand for generations. Some of the recent developments out of Venezuela seem to validate that President Hugo Chávez has mastered this time-honored tradition.
I was reminded of the parallel while recently walking by a shell game on the street. The fellow was using cheap plastic cups and a ball made of waded tape to draw an audience who were all captivated by the fast moving hands and cups. A stack of dollar bills was on the small folding card table, so this man was certainly winning more than losing. President Chávez, like this street magician, has managed to divert attention from growing domestic troubles through his recent, inflammatory rhetoric aimed at Colombia.
As has been widely reported, the Venezuelan president again recalled his ambassador to Colombia last week—this time in response to Colombia’s announcement that they found three Venezuelan anti-tank weapons in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the terrorist group fighting against the Colombian government.
Even though the Swedish seller of the weapons confirmed the anti-tank rockets did indeed belong to the Venezuelan army, Chávez scoffed at Colombia’s concern and quickly cast all responsibility away from him or his government; instead directing it back to the government and people of Colombia. This use of “sleight of word,” is a tool of choice for the Venezuelan president. Never mind that Chávez’ government and army cannot secure highly sophisticated weapons and keep them out of the hands of a terrorist group. It must be Colombia’s fault. Just like the people captivated on the street by the fellow with three cups and a ball, Hugo Chávez has captivated and fooled his supporters into believing him.
But the Colombian fight against the FARC should not be a sideshow in Chávez’ latest act. Thousands of Colombians have died in this decades-old war—one that is being perpetuated by Venezuelan-purchased arms. The latest finding of Venezuelan arms in the hands of the FARC comes three years after the U.S. Congress held a hearing that documented additional FARC access to Venezuelan arms. It is unknown when these arms were transferred to the FARC, but if a criminal act took place in Chávez’ government he should be more concerned with finding why these events took place and prosecute those responsible.
Most people enjoy the circus, but the less often we see the Hugo Chávez sideshow the better for the region.
*Brian Wanko is a guest blogger to americasquarterly.org. He is Director of Government Relations for the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.